Life at UCB through the eyes of our student bloggers

How are animals clever?

How are animals clever?

Hello again,

I recently watched the first episode of a programme on TV called The Chaser’s Road Trip and they showed us how different animals are clever compared to humans.


On the chaser’s road trip program, they visited a bonobo monkey called Kanzi and after doing some practical game tests, they discovered that Kanzi was more intelligent than humans. The games involved listening to words and selecting the correct image to go with them (lexigrams) and playing a basic video game of ping pong. There were 30 lexigrams for them to remember and Kanzi was able to match all of them with the correct word, unlike the humans.

This same Bonobo monkey has been taught how to talk by Doctor Sue. She estimates that Kanzi knows several thousands of English words and she can talk to him as she would do to a human and Kanzi understands her completely. Kanzi has around 400 lexigrams to use to communicate with his human friends throughout his day so not every single word in the English language is available to him. However, when Iowa was hit with a flood he was able to point to the lexigrams which represent big and water in order to communicate. I think this shows his ability to understand the English language above just memorising lexigrams.

Kanzi’s son is now being raised by Doctor Sue alongside Kanzi in the hope that the baby monkey will absorb more information as a child and will therefore be able to communicate more with humans compared to Kanzi. You can watch a video of Kanzi, his son and Doctor Sue here.

Thoughtful chimpanzee resting on dry tree trunk near bright grass


Also in the chaser’s road trip program, dolphins who were rescued from an oil spill have been looked after and their keepers discovered just how clever they are. The dolphins were able to follow instructions and use their echolocation senses to imitate each other, despite being blindfolded. You can watch the full episode here.

National Geographic also discovered the intelligence of dolphins, as Brian Skerry witnessed the dolphins playing a game using leaves in the ocean, he also studied how different feeding strategies are in different species of dolphins all around the world.

The most interesting discovery, in my opinion, was when Doctor Denise Herzing created a CHAT (cetacean hearing and telemetry) box which allowed her to receive and emit dolphin whistles in order to communicate with the dolphins. After several years of studying their communication, she was able to put together this CHAT box and figure out what the dolphins were saying based on their behaviours. She hopes that one day humans will be able to hold a two-way conversation with them. You can watch the full national geographic video here.

I believe that the intelligence of dolphins and many other animals has not yet been discovered. I personally witnessed just how playful dolphins are when I was volunteering in Tenerife on the boats out at sea. The photos below show the time when 2 dolphins were showing off their acrobatic moves – this really took me by surprise as I was not expecting them to jump this high and spin mid air!


Have you ever heard of the phrase “an elephant never forgets”? Well, this statement can be considered somewhat true, as it has been discovered that elephants are able to remember where to find watering holes used in droughts from over 30 years ago.

They have also shown clever behaviours such as eating medicinal plants to induce labour and have passed on this knowledge to their own children. As well as this, they apparently babysit calves for their other herd members which is usually an activity only seen in humans.

You can learn more about elephants in this video by the BBC, just click here.

Elephant Eating Green Grass

Do you think there is more to be discovered? Do you think there is a possibility that an animal is more clever than a human and that they are just choosing not to communicate it to us or that they are using their intelligence in non-academic ways?

Thanks for reading!

Charley x

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