The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 14th, 2015: Intelligence

happy_valentines_day_by_plusonedead cupid

And with that tribute to Saint Valentine out of the way, let’s move on…

Last night on Bill Maher, David Duchovny was the second interview guest, promoting his new novel, “Holy Cow!” The book, according to USA Today, is “…about a talking cow, pig and turkey that go on the lam when they discover they’re destined for the dinner table.” During the interview, Duchovny discussed (in part) animal rights, and briefly mentioned that cases were being brought to court regarding captive chimpanzees.

His mention of the chimpanzee cases coincided with an article from BuzzFeed that I was in the middle of reading just before Real Time started. The article, “People Are Animals, Too” by Peter Aldhous, opens with a couple of paragraphs about the Nonhuman Rights Project’s Steven Wise, who is arguing for “personhood” under New York State law for a chimpanzee called ‘Tommy.’ Here’s an excerpt:

“Central to Wise’s arguments in Tommy’s case, and to similar suits his organization has filed on behalf of other captive chimpanzees, is the assertion that apes are highly intelligent and self-aware beings with complex emotional lives. “The uncontroverted facts demonstrate that chimpanzees possess the autonomy and self-determination that are supreme common law values,” Wise told the five judges hearing the case.”

The article discusses aspects of various studies on animal intelligence, touching on crows, scrub jays, wolves, even octopi and cuttlefish. And, of course, no article on animal intelligence would be complete without a mention, however brief, of my co-worker’s friends’ son, Josh Plotnik, whose college studies and subsequent career I have been made aware of, and have been jealous of because he gets to study elephants. From the article:

“Some researchers working on vertebrate cognition, meanwhile, are starting to reject the field’s anthropocentric biases. In Thailand’s Golden Triangle, Josh Plotnik of the University of Cambridge works at a luxury resort that is home to a group of elephants, which, when not giving rides to tourists, take part in his research. Plotnik started with the usual roster of experiments tried on young children and chimps, including the mirror test. But he now realizes that he needs to better understand the elephants’ sensory world — dominated by odors and low-frequency sounds — before he can work out how to explore the full scope of their cognitive abilities.

“It would be very unethical of me to take all of the chimp experiments and just run them on the elephants,” Plotnik says. “I’d be publishing all these negative results, saying: ‘Elephants can’t do this. Elephants can’t do that.’ When in fact, they probably could, if we asked the questions the right way.”

Speaking of elephants, it was on a Valentine’s Day, maybe 35 years ago, when an Indian elephant wrapped its trunk around my arm to pull me closer, and a tiger thoroughly washed my hand – certainly the most unusual Valentine’s Day I’ve ever experienced. So I guess this turned out to be a sort of Valentine’s Day thread after all. Oh, well!
Happy Valentines Day Wallpaper

This is our daily Open Thread, so, open up!

Watering Hole – July 19, 2010

When does being called a “bird brain” become a compliment?   If the bird is a crow, then it is a compliment.  Crows are extremely good at problem solving.

As researchers explore the nature of the intelligence of animals, the corvid family presents some arresting examples of brainy birds. The most common corvids are crows, ravens, and jays; other relatives are the rooks, magpies, choughs, nutcrackers, and jackdaws. The familiar corvids are large, noisy, and social, and they are not shy in the presence of people. They play pranks, tease other animals, and engage in aerial acrobatics for fun. Crows live happily in human settlements and have found many ways to exploit the curious human trait of discarding food.The strong social structure of corvids has been widely studied, as have their complex vocalizations and cooperative actions. Pioneering animal behaviorist Konrad Lorenz studied jackdaws in his native Austria; his King Solomon’s Ring reports his interactions with them and observations for their behavior.

Corvids are known to mimic human voices and other sounds and to enjoy the confusion that results. Zookeeper Gerald Durrell recounted the antics of his pet magpies, who learned to imitate the Durrell’s maid’s call to the chickens to come and be fed. When the magpies got bored, they called the chickens, who came running in anticipation of a treat. When the disappointed chickens went back to roost, the magpies called them again, and again, and the chickens, no match for the clever magpies, fell for the ruse every time.

Read more at this link, Cleverness of Crows

More here.

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