Our closest living relative is, unsurprisingly, not a fool. Primatologist Fras de Waal, of Emory University, crowned a young chimpanzee, named Ayumu, as number one on his list of “10 Animal Noble Prize for Overall Smartness” for outperforming humans at a memory task. Ayumu remembered the correct order of a series of numbers when they appeared at random for just 210 milliseconds on a touchscreen monitor — crushing human kids in the same task.
Chimpanzees are also known for their tool-making skills (De Waal notes that chimps have been seen fashioning spears out of sticks) and for learning how to communicate using sign language.
2. Bottlenose dolphins
Body mass to brain ratio is how the boffins work out an animal’s intelligence, and these loveable creatures have the largest.
Self-aware, they can recognise themselves in mirrors, can keep their appearance neat and tidy, whilst being famed for their advanced communication skills. Dolphins can imitate human postures a type of mimicry that is “cognitively demanding”.
In many ways dogs may be more human-like than any other species, even non-human primates,” researchers wrote in a 2008 dog intelligence study published in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.
In a separate study, Brian Hare, an expert in canine cognition, showed that dogs can follow and respond to human gestures, like pointing and eye movements, without training. This so-called “theory of mind” ability “is so important to our species,” writes Slate’s David Grimm, “that without it, we would have trouble learning and interacting with the world around us.”
Like dogs, pigs have been shown to understand emotions, demonstrate empathy, solve mazes, learn simple symbolic languages and, most adorably, make best friends. IN-DEPTH research has demonstrated that a typical middle-aged pig has the intelligence of a three-year-old human. As some of the smartest animals in the world, the youngest pigs even put our youngest humans to shame. In an experiment where wee British piglets had to use mirrors to divine the path to a hidden bowl of food, piggies as young as six weeks old learned the concept of reflection within a few hours—a milestone that takes baby humans several months to grasp.
They have large brains, and they also show a lot of empathy, unlike many creatures in the animal world that are hard-wired as pre.da.tors. Elephants have incredible memories. They’re able to recall specific routes to watering holes over incredible stretches of terrain and over the span of many years—and they never forget a friend, either. In 1999, an elephant named Shirley arrived at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Immediately, a resident elephant named Jenny became animated and playful. It wasn’t love at first sight; Jenny remembered Shirley from when they performed briefly in a circus together—22 years earlier.
Not everyone’s favourite furry animal, granted, but they are pretty smart. They’re smart, and can handle the puzzles we throw at them. They can memorize routes (hence, the mazes), even though their eyesight is far, far less acute than ours is. And their problem-solving skills are on par with those of dogs, despite their brains being much smaller. Equally impressive, a Harvard Business Review study found that “even though the rat brain is smaller and less complex than the human brain, research has shown that the two are remarkably similar in structure and function.”
True prison-breakers of the sea, these tentacled creatures have proven time and again their talents for popping lids off screw-top jars, compressing their bulky bodies through slit-small holes, and climbing impossibly out of aquarium tanks to their freedom. Otto, a German aquarium octopus, was even known to throw rocks at the glass and spray water at overhead lamps to short-circuit the annoyingly bright lights (on more than one occasion). Add to their rap sheet the innovation of assembling shelters from coconut shells, and there’s no denying cephalopods will one day be our overlords.