Brilliant Chickens and Einstein Squid


This past weekend I was leading a workshop on animal intelligence.  After the workshop an engineer there told me that he still believed that humans are more intelligent.  I asked him to share how he came to this conclusion.  His answer was that humans have been able to go into space and put a man on the moon.  I replied, “Well, if this is your measure of intelligence, then you are absolutely right.  But from my perspective, any species who spends billions of dollars to shoot someone into space while spending almost nothing on saving their current home is far from intelligent.” 


I do not think that intelligence is a measure of worth.  I am currently writing a book on intelligence in the non-human animal world because, although it is not really a measure of worth, many people have decided that it is.  Non-human species are slaughtered, mutilated and tortured because it is thought that they have no emotional or other intelligence.   Intelligence is difficult to measure. Think of an intelligent person you know.  How did you come to the conclusion that this person is intelligent?  Most likely it was from what they said in spoken language.  Because of language barriers, we can barely discern if someone from another culture is intelligent, let alone another species.   Anyone can seem intelligent if they measure up to the standards of the one giving the intelligence test.  For example: If a bat were giving us our intelligence test, they might give us the simplest test.  They would ask us to move quickly through the forest at night without bumping into anything.  We would be bumbling idiots.  They would be shocked at our lack of intelligence and ability. 



People who choose to believe that humans are superior to other species are often trying to protect a religious belief, behavior or industry that causes harm to those they consider inferior.


Our superiority over other species is central to our food, entertainment, drug, medical, and other industries.


Given the choice between healthy foods and high fat, sugary, processed junk food the following two species make very different choices.  One of the species chooses the healthy options 100% of the time when given the choice.  The other species chooses the unhealthy junk food the majority of the time, even when they are aware that the other choice is healthier.  Which species is more intelligent?  The first species, who chooses the healthy food when given the option, is rats.  In every research setting, when given the healthy fresh food choice next to junk food choices, they go for the healthier options.  The second species is humans.  The majority of people are still choosing unhealthy junk food over healthy foods.  Most species know what is beneficial to their bodies and their survival and act on this knowledge.


Zoopharmacology is the study of how non-humans treat themselves by eating specific diets.  Many current remedies used by humans were first discovered by observing other species’ use of them. 


Most other species have navigational abilities that stump scientists. There are countless stories of domestic and wild animals arriving at their destination across thousands of miles of unknown territory.  In the UK, a mother cow and her calf were sold at auction to separate farms over 30 miles apart.  That night, they were each put in the barns of their new owners.  The following morning the farmer who had purchased the mother found her missing.  By midmorning he received a call letting him know that the mother cow had traveled the 30 miles over unknown territory and was found nursing her calf in the barn of the other farm.  This is not a rare or isolated incident.


We only understand a small fraction of the complex language, interactions and perceptions experienced by other species.  Dogs are now being used to sniff out and detect cancer in human patients with over 40% accuracy. 


The accounts of non-human intelligence could fill volumes.  In the coming months I will share true stories illustrating the incredible abilities of the fellow beings sharing our earth home.  Think of it as getting to know the relatives in your big animal family.