Animals that can think views: 3464
Can animals really think? Can they make decisions based on information? For years, scientists have debated these questions. Now, many of them believe that some animals have the brain power to understand new situations, make decisions, and plan ahead. The following are just a few of the many examples of animal intelligence that scientists have observed.
A 29-year-old male bonobo, Kanzi has acquired an extraordinary vocabulary of close to 400 words. He communicates by pointing to a series of colorful symbols that have been arranged for him on three cards resembling place mats by the primatologists at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, where he resides.
Photographed at the Institute of the Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Bubbles is a 29-year-old African female elephant. Elephants are noted for their very familial ways and appear to mourn their dead.
Also photographed at TIGERS, Apsarah is a 4½-year-old female orangutan. Orangutans and bonobos are among the few members of the animal kingdom that are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. "If you put a bracelet on an orangutan and put it in front of a mirror, it doesn't just look at the bracelet," says institute director Bhagavan Antle. "It puts the bracelet up to its face and shakes it. It interacts with its reflection."
Portrait of a Bonobo
Kanzi's ability with language can be breathtaking. He can build thoughts and sentences, even conjugate, all by pointing. The symbol sheets he uses include not just easy nouns and verbs like ball and run but also concept words like from and later and grammatical elements like the -ing and -ed endings that signify verb tense.
Dogs, of course, have long been known to display all kinds of intelligent behaviors, but the most impressive, say experts in animal cognition, is the canine's ability to understand what pointing means. No other species understands that an extended finger indicates that there is something in that direction that is worthy of its attention. Bibi, a resident of New York, is an 8-year-old female pug.
Apsalah dangles for MacKay's camera. Orangutans are noted for their ability to create tools. Among those noted by the University of Wisconsin's National Primate Research Center: using leafy branches as flyswatters, collecting water in cups and modifying sticks to collect insects or leaves.
A 2009 Japanese study of elephants in zoos found that the pachyderms have considerable numerical skills; they are able to recognize, for example, the difference between two quantities of objects as they are placed into buckets.
Hanuman and Apsarah
Orangutans are also noted for their ability to imitate human behavior. At TIGERS, orangutans have been known to sit with people taking a tour of the institute, have tea with them and eat snacks. Apsarah is joined in this photo by Hanuman, a 3½-year-old male.
All the things we love about our dogs — the joy they seem to take in our presence, the many ways they integrate themselves into our lives — spring from social skills they have acquired by adapting to life with humans.
Me in the Mirror
Kanzi checks out his reflection. Along with apes, elephants and dolphins can also pass the "mirror test": all three species respond appropriately when they look in a mirror after a spot of paint has been applied to their forehead or another part of their body. Apes and elephants will reach up to touch the mark on themselves with their finger or trunk rather than reach out to touch the reflection. Dolphins will position themselves so they can see the reflection of the mark better.
The evolutionary record suggests that dogs descended from wolves, but that does little to explain the symbiotic relationship that developed between them and humans. Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist at Barnard College and the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know, has suggested that when humans and wolves first came into contact, only the affable animals had the temperament to earn the humans' trust, and they, in turn, were rewarded with food that the humans did not want to eat. Once dogs became comfortable in our company, humans sped up their social evolution by giving extra food to helpful dogs — ones that barked to warn of danger, for example. These, in turn, got more rewards and eventually became partners with humans, helping with hunts or herding other animals. Jack Russell terriers, like Ringo, above, a 3-year-old male, were ultimately bred for the very specific task of hunting foxes.
A recent study conducted by a zoologist at the University of Cambridge found that the rook, a member of the crow family, can use reasoning to drop stones into a pitcher partly filled with water in order to raise the water level high enough to drink from it.
Apsalah relaxes during her photo shoot with MacKay in South Carolina, one of three states the photographer visited to make this portfolio.
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