Smartest animals in the world

By Village Mayor • Jun 23rd, 2008 • Category: Animals

Jane Goodall, a primatologist famous for her 45-year study of Tanzanian chimp social and family life, made a list of five of the smartest animals in the world for USA Today:

1. Great Apes
2. Whales and dolphins
3. Elephants
4. Parrots.
5. Dogs and cats

1. Great Apes

The list of the smartest animals in the world of course starts with the apes. Humans and chimps genomes are at least 98 percent identical and in fact they are one of our closest living relatives. Chimpanzees make tools and use them to acquire foods and for social displays; they have sophisticated hunting strategies requiring cooperation, influence and rank; they are status conscious, manipulative and capable of deception; they can learn to use symbols and understand aspects of human language. A recent study revealed the use of such advanced tools as spears. They sharpen it with their teeth and use it to spear Senegal Bushbabies out of small holes in trees.

In one study, monkeys who were being rewarded for a task stopped working and became indignant when they saw that their fellow primates were receiving better treats as rewards – evidently, a sense of injustice isn’t unique to the human race. In another study, researchers found that rhesus macaques would "pay" (in fruit juice) for the chance to ogle photographs of sexy females – much like some human males we know.

One more amazing experiment was held by Inoue and Matsuzawa from Kyoto University who did a numbers memory test where chimps performed even better then we humans did. You can see the video bellow.

(Smart chimp)

Try to beat chimp by doing the same test on: .

2. Dolphins

Dolphins are very intelligent, playful and creative animals and by many researchers are considered to be the second smartest animal in the world. They also have a very advanced communication system and even use tools.

Two dolphins in captivity, Buzz and Doris, were trained to push different switches to earn a fish. Of course it was easy but then the test became more complicated. They were taught to follow a sequence — Doris had to wait for Buzz to press the signal first. They were also separated and Buzz was even blocked from seeing the light. When the light came on under those conditions and stayed on, Doris waited for Buzz to hit his signal. When he didn’t, Doris eventually made a sound, and soon after Buzz pushed the right signal. Doris followed suit, and they got their fish. Almost every time the experiment was repeated Buzz pushed the correct switch, leading Dr. Bastian to conclude that dolphins can communicate abstract ideas, such as left and right.

Another interesting thing happened at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, where Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

One day the lead trainer went through the routine only to notice that the dolphin kept coming back with a piece of trash even though the tank appeared clean. Later the scam was revealed. This dolphin had established a savings account of sorts. He collected all the trash and stuffed it in a bag wedged in a corner of the tank near the intake of the filtering system. In there was paper, rope, and all sorts of trash. The amazing thing is that when he went to the bank he did not simply take a piece, rather he would tear a bit off to maximize the return.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

3. Elephants

Elephants are highly intelligent, use tools, and mourn their dead. The empirical evidence reveals that they rival, and even surpass, chimpanzees in many areas of intelligence they create complex social relationships, exhibit a wide spectrum of emotions, and even imitate human language. Elephants also exhibit self-awareness. A crowning achievement, some researchers say, was when this female Asian elephant named Happy recognized herself in the mirror.

Elephants are highly skilled tool users. Older matriarchs teach their young how to use sticks to swat flies from their bodies and to use scraps of vegetation to scratch themselves. Also, elephants have been observed stripping leaves off of small branches and creating new designs to swat flies. This type of tool use is just as advanced as that of any great ape.

Elephants communicate over long distances by producing and receiving low-frequency sound (infrasound) and this can explain how elephants can find distant potential mates, and how social groups are able to coordinate their movements over extensive range.

Some elephants in Thailand have been trained to paint ‘self portraits’.
Many people who have watched this video have asked the question "Is this fake??". It turns out the video is real, but the elephants have only been trained to outline and color paintings they’ve been taught to reproduce. Nevertheless it’s astonishing how precise they can be and draw even better then most people does.

(Elephant Painting)

4. Parrots

African Grey Parrots are extremely sociable, loving, and intelligent animals. They are capable of learning hundreds of human words and sounds, which can be used in their proper contexts. Some researchers say that African Grey Parrots have intelligence equivalent to that of a five year old child.

A good example of how smart they could be is Alex (1976 – 2007) African Grey Parrot which was the subject of a thirty-year (1977-2007) experiment by animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg. Pepperberg, listing Alex’s accomplishments in 1999, said he could identify fifty different objects and recognize quantities up to six; that he could distinguish seven colors and five shapes, and understand the concepts of "bigger", "smaller", "same", and "different," and that he was learning "over" and "under". Alex had a vocabulary of about 150 words, but was exceptional in that he appeared to have understanding of what he said. For example, when Alex was shown an object and was asked about its shape, color, or material, he could label it correctly. If asked the difference between two objects, he also answered that, but if there was no difference between the objects, he said “none.” When he was tired of being tested, he would say “I’m gonna go away,” and if the researcher displayed annoyance, Alex tried to diffuse it with the phrase, “I’m sorry.” You can see how smart parrot Alex is in a video bellow.

(Alex The Talking Parrot)

Another African Grey, N’kisi has an amazing over 900 words vocabulary, which he can use in complete sentences. On meeting famous wildlife researcher, Jane Goodall, the parrot inquired, "Got a chimp?" Sounds like a logical question to us. To hear some of N’kisi’s amazing language skills, check out the audio clip available here.

5. Dogs and cats

A great example of dog smartness is Rico, a border collie, who can recognize over 200 toys and understands basic grammar. In tests, he was even able to learn new words instantly and retrieve toys he’d never seen before – which show more brainpower than you’d find in most preschool classrooms. Rico could remember the names of several items for up to four weeks after its last exposure. Rico was also able to interpret phrases such as "fetch the sock" in terms of its component words (rather than considering its utterance to be a single word). Rico could also give the sock to a specified person.

Cats learn the tricks by observation and imitation, egged on with positive reinforcement. But training cats is thought to be harder than dogs. Nevertheless a human with a good relationship to a cat, where there is trust and good communication, can find a cat to be almost as trainable as a dog. Cats’ learning abilities are aided by their good memory, recalling certain information much longer than dogs. In one study, it was found that cats possess visual memory ability comparable to that of monkeys. However, for short term working memory, at least one study showed that dogs outperformed cats for periods of time up to 60 seconds.

Other smart animals:


Crows and ravens often score very highly on intelligence tests. They also show modest linguistic capabilities and the ability to relay information over great distances, live in complex, hierarchic societies involving hundreds of individuals with various "occupations", and have an intense rivalry with the area’s less socially advanced ravens.

The crow is known to have a large brain compared to its body weight, and to have outstanding cognitive abilities. They are crafty critters: crows fashion tools from twigs, feathers and other bits of debris to snare food from hard-to-reach places. There was a Kacelnik’s 2002 study in the journal Science on a captive New Caledonian crow that bent a straight piece of wire into a hook to fetch a bucket of food in a tube. "No other animal—not even a chimp—has ever spontaneously solved a problem like this, a fact that puts crows in a class with us as toolmakers," Savage writes in her book. You can see the video below.

(Smart crow)

Wild hooded crows in Israel have learned to use bread crumbs for bait-fishing.
Crows are expert problem-solvers: In Japan, they drop nuts onto the road so that passing cars can crack the shells.

(Smart crow)

Swiss zoologist Thomas Bugnyar’s did a research that showed how a raven named Hugin learned to deceive a more dominant raven named Mugin into looking for cheese morsels in empty containers while Hugin snuck away to raid full containers.


It is unbelievable but pigs may be smarter and cleaner then dogs. In fact, pigs are some of the cleanest animals around, refusing to excrete anywhere near their living or eating areas when given a choice. Many animal experts consider pigs to be more trainable than dogs or cats.

A sign of their cleverness came from experiments in the 1990s. Pigs were trained to move a cursor on a video screen with their snouts and used the cursor to distinguish between scribbles they knew and those they were seeing for the first time. They learned the task as quickly as chimpanzees.

(Smart Pig)

Sources: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

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