Nine years later… animal intelligence debate still rages

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Earlier this week, my mother handed me an interesting edition of National Geographic — from March 2008.

The cover featured a picture of an adorable black and white border collie and the headline, “Inside Animal Minds: Birds, Apes, Dolphins, and a Dog With a World-Class Vocabulary.”

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The inside headline was just as intriguing. It said: “Minds of their Own: Animals are smarter than you think.”

According to the article, Uek, a New Caledonian crow, “solves problems and creates and uses tools — once thought the domain solely of primates.” Then there’s Azy, an Orangutan who “shows cognitive complexity and flexibility rivaling that of chimps,” and Shanthi, an Asian elephant who is capable of retaining long memories and “has a sense of self.” Even an unnamed African Cichlid can determine “social rank according to observation,” which is a “step on the way to logical reasoning,” according to the article.

The list goes on.

Edward, a Black Leicester Longwool sheep belongs to a species that can “recognize individual faces and remember them longterm.” JB, a Giant Pacific octopus, and the rest of his kind, have distinct personalities, use tools and recognize individuals.

But according to the article, few wild or domesticated animals can top Betsy. Betsy the Border Collie, who was six at the time, had a staggering vocabulary that totaled 340 words “and counting…”

The debate goes on…

Nine years later, the debate about animal intelligence goes on. And if anything, it has intensified as more and more people view companion animals as family members.

Ask anyone who has a pet about its intelligence you will no doubt be regaled with dozens of anecdotes. After all, people love to brag about their dogs, cats, horses, gerbils, ferrets, birds, rats….

But then again, there are those people who don’t like animals, don’t have pets and scoff at the mere mention of “animal intelligence.” Of course, these people also think that they’re the “smartest people in the room.” To them, there is simply no comparison to human intelligence… or human superiority for that matter.

That’s their opinion — and of course, they’re entitled to it.

Personally, I disagree. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no end to human stupidity…

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