Clever Creatures - Read All About 5 Of The Most Astute Animals On Earth!
Clever Creatures - Read All About 5 Of The Most Astute Animals On Earth!

Clever Creatures - Read All About 5 Of The Most Astute Animals On Earth!

Posted by Phoebe Codling on 16th Dec 2017 8 mins

Hi guys! Now, I don’t know about you, but whenever I think about which animals are the most intelligent on this little planet of ours, I always think of dolphins! I’m not sure if it’s my childhood obsession with dolphins that’s rearing its head (I literally adopted one!), or if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. So, I thought today would be a great time to chat about which animals are essentially the Stephen Hawkings and Einsteins of our animal kingdom, and to have a chinwag about why these creatures are super-duper clever! Full disclosure: one of them may be a little surprising!


First up, unsurprisingly, is cetaceans - or for the purpose of this article, dolphins and whales. These creatures are supremely intelligent, with some scientists arguing that they are the most intelligent creatures on our planet. Now, I know what you’re thinking: how is that even possible? Well buckle up and concentrate. Dolphins and whales are different to humans in the way that their primary sense is auditory, alongside their primary means of communication. In humans, our primary sense is visual, with just our communication being auditory. Because both of their senses are auditory, this essentially means that cetaceans have far superior communication skills than your average human being, despite our obvious superiority complex and apparent ‘intelligence’. Humans need to get down off their high horses, because this next piece of information is going to blow your mind. Due to their primary sense being auditory, cetaceans are literally capable of projecting an auditory image ‘identical to the sonar image they receive’ to their fellow species. So for example, if a dolphin wanted to describe a fish to another dolphin, they would literally send the image in mind. In simple terms, they can essentially send what humans would describe as a holographic image to each other. Isn’t that AMAZING?!

If that wasn’t enough to convince you of their intelligence, try this one on for size. Cetaceans use sonar to literally ultrasound their fellow animals, using this ability to check on their health and emotional state. Using high frequency pitch and the echoes created, cetaceans can use this information to gain a picture of the organs and bones within their fellow animals. Obviously the ‘image’ received wouldn’t be as clear as the ones we use within the medical industry, but they are born with this extraordinary ability. There’s only one word for it: incredible. Read this fab article for an even deeper insight.

Thinking chimpanzee

But it’s not just cetaceans that are brain-boxes - there are plenty of other animals that are brilliant, too! This one probably won’t be a surprise, as they’re cited to be our closest relatives. Chimpanzees differ from humans by just 1.23 per cent in genes, so it’s not too surprising that their intelligence levels are top-notch. Chimps are particularly skilled when playing games, such as chess or poker, due to their skill at using ‘game theory’. Simply put, game theory refers to when you anticipate what the other player will do in a competitive setting, i.e. predicting what will happen next. Chimpanzees are super skilled at this, outsmarting humans in many experiments conducted on this theory - remind me to never challenge a chimp to a game of chess (say that three times fast!) Chimpanzees also have wicked short-term memories – one particular experiment captured the world a few years ago, with a little guy called Ayumu. Ayumu the chimpanzee was able to recall the exact sequence and location of numbers on a screen after being shown them for less than a second. For humans, this is pretty much impossible, and is usually only achievable to those with Savant Syndrome, a very rare and unusual condition. It’s safe to say that chimps have a much better short term memory than the majority of the human race, and that their intelligence cannot be underestimated!

Cute piglet

Now, the first two animals we’ve chatted about have been relatively obvious, so this next one is slightly less so. You might not think of this species straight away if asked about the world’s most intelligent animals, so I’ll give you a clue: they’re pink! No, not flamingos… you’ve got it, pigs! I bet I’ve surprised you with that, haven’t I? Pigs are actually super clever, and not just something you insist on putting in your sandwich. According to Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University Veterinary School, ‘Pigs have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs, and certainly three-year-olds’.

As always, it is impossible to compare intelligence levels between animals because the number of conflicting factors is overwhelming. However, using research it is clear to see that pigs are very clever animals, even when stacked against chimpanzees and dogs. Pigs have been found to be highly emotionally intelligent: a 2013 study revealed that untrained pigs learn from their trained peers to anticipate upcoming events, such as receiving a reward or to receive a punishment, depending on the genre of music playing. Furthermore, in social situations, pigs are serious brain-boxes with high levels of emotional intelligence. They can quite easily understand their fellow pig’s behaviour, and will most likely imitate their reactions, such as wagging their tails (positive) or keeping their ears back (negative) when in a group.

But it’s not just emotional intelligence that sets a pig apart from other animals, and just like chimpanzees, they are excellent at puzzles. In 2015, a clever little piggy named Moritz made the headlines by completing a wooden shape puzzle designed for children. Despite the obvious difficulty he has controlling the pieces with his mouth, he succeeds! And clever pigs caught on camera don’t stop there. Nelly the show pig performs tricks on stage all the time - now, obviously these are rehearsed, but in this particular experiment, it shows how quickly she can learn new tricks and how excellent her cognitive abilities are! Watch the experiment here. After all this pig talk, I think (or rather, I know) that I need a pet pig in my life.

Border collie

Now, since I mentioned them earlier in the article, I feel like I need to include one animal here whose inclusion will not surprise their owners one bit! From previous articles, you might have guessed that I’m a bit of dog lover (ahem, obsessive) but dogs truly are amazing! Dogs are fully aware that their owners are indeed their owners, having excellent facial recognition skills, as well as having top-notch emotional senses – you know when your dog gives you a cuddle if you’re having a cry? They know you’re upset, and want to comfort their best friend! Border collies in particular are the smartest, with Chaser knowing the names of over a thousand objects. Chaser is able to fetch on command in response to the object's name; he even knows the names of each of the Powerpuff Girls. What a dog! So you can see that dogs are definitely up there with the cleverest animals of all, and that they're more than just our fluffy companions!

African Grey Parrot

So we’ve covered dolphins, chimpanzees, pigs and dogs. What could be left? Well, our final animal is one that is often overlooked, but today, how could we?! I’m of course talking about the mighty parrot. We all know how ingenious parrots are with their super-cool mimicking skills, but is that all they can do? In short, no! There have been countless experiments undertaken over the years on different species of parrots, to figure out what they’re capable of and how clever they really are. Alex, the African Grey Parrot was subject to a 30-year study which concluded that he was as smart as a five-year old! Alex was capable of identifying over fifty different objects, five shapes, distinguishing different colours, and could identify quantities up to six. Not only this, but Alex also had a vocabulary of over a hundred words! Most interestingly, perhaps,was Alex’s ability to actually ask a question. Whilst looking at his own reflection in the mirror, he asked “What colour?”, and he learnt the word “Grey” after being told six times. This is a particularly important as Alex was the first ever non-human animal to ask a question, which is mind-blowing. Whilst animals like chimpanzees and dolphins can answer questions, none have ever asked a question. It would seem that parrots have the ability to be fully aware of their own existence, a revolutionary discovery.

So, there you have it: five of the world’s most intelligent animals, all with their own strengths and foibles. Whilst we humans tend to believe that we’re the most intelligent life our planet has to offer, it is clear to see that many animals are much cleverer than we think. It is always difficult to compare intelligence, particularly when the animals in question are so very different: living in diverse habitats, climates and eco-systems. What we can do, though, is appreciate these incredible creatures for what they are, and not underestimate both their intelligence and what they have to offer our planet. So, if you’re interested in interacting with some of these incredible animals, why not check out some of the projects we offer?

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Mykyl commented 8 months ago
Raccoons are on par with chimpanzees in the intelligence department.

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Mike commented 11 months ago
When you combine any type of ‘intelligence’ such as the five animals and birds you mention there has to be a connection with limbs with hands and fingers, thus the ability to manipulate tools, etc.

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Wondering commented 1 year ago
Elephants and horses are known to be very intelligent. Surprised to not see them in the top five.

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