An elephant’s brain is the largest of any land animal, and bears some startling similarities to the human brain. This may account for the pachyderm’s propensity for expressing some very human behaviors, including compassion, humor, and most startlingly, grief. Elephants have been observed mourning the passing of their fellow elephants and even the occasional human. Shortly after conservationist Lawrence Anthony, known for his work rehabilitating violent elephants, passed away, two herds of elephants arrived out of nowhere at his compound in the South African KwaZulu and lingered there for two days before disappearing into the bush.
Humpback whales, who were hunted almost to the point of extinction before a moratorium on whaling was implemented in 1966, aren’t particularly social creatures. They tend to stick together in groups for only one or two days before splitting up. But they do sing, forcing air through their nasal cavities to create sounds since they have no vocal cords, sometimes for more than 24 hours at a time! Scientists believe male whale song is integral to mating, although it may also be used like a sonar signal to help locate other whales. Males can be quite aggressive while competing for a female mate, and sing while battling other male whales.
Pigs? Yes, that’s right. Portly and pink, pigs are smarter than you think. Both domestic and wild pigs are able to adapt to a variety of ecological conditions, which researchers attribute to an innate level of intelligence, not just an instinct to survive. Pigs also make good pets and can be trained just like you would a dog or a cat. Although they’re pretty cute, they’ll eat just about anything, which gives them their reputation for gluttony.
Born and bred New Yorker Woody Allen famously referred to pigeons as “rats with wings,” which is unfair, although rats are definitely smart enough to make it on a list like this one. The ancient Romans, Genghis Khan, and 19th century financial institutions and new agencies all used pigeons to carry important messages and provide airmail services. Pigeons were also used in both World War I and II to carry messages across battle fields and saved thousands of lives as a result. In addition to their celebrated homing capabilities, pigeons can understand mathematical concepts, rank objects in numerical order, and recognize and remember hundreds of images.
Are cats self-absorbed? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of expressing love. Author Jeffrey Massonnailed it when he wrote, “We need cats to need us. It unnerves us that they do not. However, if they do not need us, they nonetheless seem to love us.” While some humans believe cats have the potential to create great art, others believe the feline brain is only obsessed with food, more food, and when will I get even more food. When it comes to reconciling these two extreme points of view, cats are no help, even though research shows they are adaptable and clever throughout their nine lives.
Octopuses are creepy, have tentacles covered with suckers, and even at 100 pounds can still squeeze through a hole the size of a golf ball. They’re also one of the smartest sea animals on the planet. The relative intelligence of this mollusk evolved as a result of the challenges found in their native coral reef environment. In addition to being able to solve problems and navigate through mazes, octopuses play, exhibit personalty traits, and possess short-term memory.
Chimpanzees share 95% to 98% percent of the same DNA as humans, making them our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom. They are an endangered species, once having numbered between 1 million and 2 million at the turn of the 20th century, it’s now estimated that there are less than 300,000 left living in the wild. Chimpanzees use tools, can solve complex problems, and are capable of learning and communicating with sign language. They communicate with each other and humans through facial expressions, back slapping, and distinct noises, and express a wide range of human behaviors, including empathy, sadness, and altruism.
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