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AnimalsNews & Trends 020

The world’s most intelligent animals

We feed them, we hunt them and we tame them. We keep them as pets, try to train them and totally forget that many of them are almost as intelligent as we are – or even a step ahead. Let’s take a look at the incredible abilities of the world’s most intelligent animals.

«Sit! Good dog... Down! Well done... and now eat!» That’s how we speak and act with dogs. Or we pull a fake mouse on a string around the house to inspire our cat to play. Because cats can’t do so themselves – that’s what we think. Because I can’t be bothered – that’s what our cat thinks. Let’s find out what animals really know, understand and are capable of.


These grey giants might look clumsy, but they have a surprisingly large brain that can weigh more than five kilograms. This might not seem much considering their total weight, but elephants are highly intelligent, as their brains show. They feature so-called folded temporal lobes. Elephants recognise themselves in a mirror, are able to tell a person’s origin, age and gender just by the person’s voice and can identify and purposefully avoid areas where poachers are active. On top of this, elephants experience emotions such as fear, sadness, empathy and thirst for revenge.

Large, grey and clever: Elephants aren’t only physically strong, but also highly intelligent.


Parrots are said to be as intelligent as a five-year-old child. They’re able to tell objects, colours and patterns apart, compare things and recognise sizes. They don’t only experience emotions themselves, but sense human emotions: If their owner is in a bad mood, parrots will apologise or express compassion – provided that they know the right words. Parrots can’t only remember up to 1,500 words, they’re also able to put them together correctly to form sentences.

As intelligent as a five-year-old child – parrots are very clever.


Apes are very close to humans when it comes to most aspects ¬– including intelligence. They use stones as hammers, branches and twigs as eating tools and leaves as sponges. Apes have the ability to learn, think and act from their own reason. They’ve also been seen to intentionally deceive other apes, which shows that they’re able to guess what others are thinking. Besides, research has shown that apes are cable of thinking and planning up to 12 - 14 hours ahead. On top of this, they can count, learn sign language and they have a better short-term memory than humans do.

Not just a pretty face: a baby monkey having a snack.


We might make them do simple fetch games, but dogs can do much more than this. As researchers have proven, dogs are as intelligent as a two to three-year-old child. They have a basic consciousness, can remember up to 250 words and are even capable of calculating and lying.

Man's best friend...dogs understand, communicate with and care for us.


Octopi are extremely clever, especially when it comes to getting to food. They can recognise crabs inside a closed jar and open it by holding on to the glass and turning the lid at the same time. Octopi are also fast learners; every one of their eight arms has its own brain. They’re also capable of finding their way in a maze and building a hut with pebbles if they can’t find a cave.


They’ll never win a popularity or beauty prize, but ants are mighty intelligent and admirably social. When it comes to survival strategies and team spirit, these tiny creatures are unrivalled. They communicate via pheromones and let others know about food, danger or rivals. Ants are able to teach other ants what they need to do. And they know no mercy in combat. They operate in a highly intelligent way: They’ve been seen to steal larvae from other ant colonies and let them work as slaves. Another strategy they have is to target and kill only females, as males don’t fight and can be used as workers.

Small, mighty and clever – ants are natural team players and survivalists.


When it comes to their brain, dolphins are even closer to humans than apes are. They experience a range of positive and negative emotions, have a self-consciousness and are capable of controlling and guiding their actions. Dolphins can even feel affection for other dolphins, proceed according to plan and solve extremely complex tasks. Every dolphin has its own individual name and others express this name with whistle tones. However, there is some dissent among experts on whether dolphins really are as intelligent or whether the size of their brain is due to evolutionary adaptation to life in the cold water.

Often referred to as the most intelligent animals in the world: dolphins.


They crack nuts by dropping them from a great height. Some ravens have even learnt how to place nuts to have them cracked by cars. Ravens observe other animals burry their food and steal their storage. In fact, they’re even more sneaky; they deceive other ravens by acting as if they’re taking care of their feathers when in fact, they’re checking out the environment. Besides, ravens possess the skills and cleverness to solve complex problems.


Bees are famous for their ability to use language to convey the location of food to other bees. On top of this, they have an internal GPS system, which makes sure they always find their way back to the hive. Bees are an excellent example of how simple rules can produce incredibly complex results – provided that these rules are followed by an intelligent species.

Small but mighty: Bees are capable of a lot more than making honey.


Pigs are as intelligent as cats and dogs, which is why they’re often kept as pets. Pigs have the ability to come up with a creative solution if a simple standard way no longer works. They also recognise themselves in the mirror and can interpret an image in the mirror to find their food. It’s easy for pigs to learn simple tricks – another reason why they’re popular pets.

Cute and clever creatures: pigs.

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Raphael Knecht, Zurich

  • Teamleader Heimdall
When I'm not stuffing my face with sweets, you'll catch me running around in the gym hall. I’m a passionate floorball player and coach. On rainy days, I tinker with my homebuilt PCs, robots or other gadgets. Music was my first love, cooking is my second: I’m a real foodie and love trying out new recipes. I also enjoy travelling to exotic places, tackling hilly terrain on my road bike and criss-crossing the country on my cross-country skis.

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