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In his new book, primatologist Frans De Waal asks Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? and explores just how intelligent animals can be in comparison to man. For decades, humans have taken comfort in the things they can do (use tools, have a sense of self, etc.) that they believed animals could not. But, as the director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center points out, these intellectual differences aren't as clear cut as they seem. There are animals that have shown they are capable of using tools, developing a sense of self, and other skills and traits we have previously deemed as strictly human.
It's time to put the human ego aside for a moment and see which animals out there are already outsmarting us.
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AYUMU THE CHIMPANZEE
This young chimpanzee at Kyoto University, Japan, has surpassed humans on a cognitive task, achieving a feat that Japanese college students fail at — even after extensive training. Ayumu can in one brief glance of 210 milliseconds (faster than you can blink!) memorize a series of numbers on a screen and then tap them in the right order even though the numbers themselves have been replaced by white squares. For a video, look here.
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BETTY THE CROW
Betty, a New Caledonian crow at Oxford University, is the first bird to manufacture a tool. For a long time this was considered the hallmark of humanity, but the skill is now also known among the great apes. Faced with food at the bottom of a tube, Betty bent a piece of metal wire into a hook to fish the food out. In a video of her achievement, you can first see her try in vain with a straight wire, before adapting and adding a bend.
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SANTINO THE CHIMP
Sick of being taunted at the Furuvik Zoo in Sweden, Santino, a male chimp, took matters into his own hands. Every morning he would carefully collect stones from the moat around his enclosure and put them in neat little piles. Later in the day, when there were lots of screaming and yelling visitors, those stones came in handy as ammunition to pelt the public with. Planning for the future — also known as mental time travel — has been confirmed with rigorous experiments on both apes and scrub jays. Until recently, “time travel” was assumed to be impossible without language.
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Capuchin monkeys residing at Atlanta's Living Links Center, where De Waal is the director, seem to have a sense of fairness. These monkeys happily perform a task for cucumber slices until they see others getting grapes, which taste so much better. At this point, they become agitated, throw down their measly cucumbers and go on strike.
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This cephalopod has astonishing camouflage abilities, melting into its environment. There is even one type, the mimic octopus, which imitates actual animals. This master of disguise enacts a flounder by adopting the fish's body shape and color, as well as its typical undulating swimming pattern close to the sea floor. The repertoire of the mimic octopus also includes a dozen local marine organisms from its habitat found off the coast of Indonesia, such as lionfish, sea snakes, and jellyfish.
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Initially, the dogs came out as smarter than their wild counterparts because they follow human instructions, whereas wolves ignore them. Instead of testing how animals react to us, which is a very human-centric approach, we should see how they react to each other. If done, wolves turn out at least as smart, probably smarter than dogs, as they pay excellent attention to one another and imitate each other.
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