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See 15 animals that have shown us their impressive smarts

Measuring intelligence is so complex that it’s impossible to pit one animal’s intelligence against another’s.

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

By Natasha Daly, National Geographic


Kanzi

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Kanzi, a 39-year-old bonobo, became well-known for his language skills. He can communicate using hundreds of symbols that correlate to words.


Vietnamese potbellied pigs

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Vietnamese potbellied pigs are, like all pigs, highly social. Studies show that they use deception to keep other pigs away from their food.


Some African cichlid fish

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Some African cichlid fish, native to Lake Tanganyika in East Africa, are able to distinguish familiar fish from strangers by their facial patterns. Studies show that they spend longer tracking the movements of strangers than of fish they know.


The scrub jay

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

The scrub jay, a bird native to western North America, can remember more than 200 different spots where it stashed food, as well as the specific item in each cache.


Border collies

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Studies have highlighted the memory skills of border collies. Until his death in July 2019, one named Chaser remembered 1,022 nouns—the largest tested vocabulary of any dog.


Asian elephants

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Researchers have documented a wide array of behaviors in Asian elephants that indicate intelligence, including the ability to use tools and mimic sounds.


Marmosets

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

In the wild, marmosets, a type of monkey found in South America, are highly cooperative. They often call out to keep track of each other’s location, and they share food among group members.


New Caledonian crows

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Talented tool-makers (they can fashion sticks into digging hooks, for instance) New Caledonian crows, named for an island nation in the South Pacific, can also plan several steps ahead to secure a meal.


Orangutans

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Individual populations of orangutans in the wild have unique learned behaviors—like using leafy branches as makeshift “umbrellas,” passed down through the generations.


Bottlenose dolphins are widely regarded as highly intelligent. Play is an important part of the social lives of dolphins and is believed to be crucial to their cognitive development.

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Bottlenose dolphins


Sulphur-crested cockatoos

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection, Photographed at Bird Lovers Only, Duncan, S...

A 2009 study showed that sulphur-crested cockatoos, like the one seen here, can synchronize their movements to the beat of music.


Giant Pacific octopuses

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Giant Pacific octopuses have learned to open jars, mimic other octopuses, and solve mazes in lab tests.


Sheep

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

Sheep are adept at recognizing each other and remembering sheep faces over time.


African gray parrots

© Photograph by Vincent J. Musi, Nat Geo Imge Collection

African gray parrots are renowned for their ability to mimic human speech. Studies have also shown that they’re capable of abstract reasoning in the search for food.

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Pets Magazine: See 15 animals that have shown us their impressive smarts
See 15 animals that have shown us their impressive smarts
Measuring intelligence is so complex that it’s impossible to pit one animal’s intelligence against another’s.
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