Researchers at Auckland and Oxford Universities have recently (August, 2009) published reports that may establish the New Caledonian crow, Corvus moneduloides, as the world’s most intelligent non-human animal. Related to the familiar North American crow and raven (very bright birds in their own right…please see photo), New Caledonian crows have exhibited tool-using abilities that exceed those of even the most accomplished chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas.
Birds with Reasoning Abilities?
In the Oxford University experiment, 5 New Caledonian crows were presented with a series of tools, some of which were out of reach, and an unreachable food item. All five crows figured out the dilemma in sort order – four on the very first try.
The crows used the short, available tool to reach a longer tool, which was then used to hook and retrieve a still longer implement. Equipped with the longest tool, the birds then pulled the food within reach. Amazingly, none of the crows exhibited random experimentation – rather, each unerringly chose the proper tool to accomplish each part of the task at hand!
Never before has an animal demonstrated such a sophisticated degree of sequential tool use. In fact, the crows, none of which had prior training, surpassed even what has been accomplished by well-trained primates faced with similar problems. Scientists are now trying to determine if “analytical abilities” are involved (seems so to me!).
Gorillas and Parrots
I’m very impressed by the crows, but must also admit being floored by the cunning of a baby gorilla I cared for at the Bronx Zoo. I was sitting with the animal all night to prevent her from pulling out an IV line attached to her arm. She very definitely feigned sleep and then slowly inched her hand towards the IV line when I looked away. Each time I turned towards her, she went “back to sleep”!
Of course we all have our parrot stories…please write in with some that might compete with these crows!
Please check out this amazing video of a New Caledonian crow in action at Auckland University.
One of the crows involved, known to researchers as “Betty”, has made animal behavior headlines in the past. To read about her tool-making abilities (in this case, bending a wire into a useful hook), please check out the following National Geographic article: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/08/0808_020808_crow.html.