007, the problem-solving crow
Forget the insult “bird-brain”, a wild crow has proven that likening someone’s intelligence to that of a bird could be a huge compliment. The aptly named 007 is able to solve complex, multi-step logic problems even human beings would struggle with.
British scientist Dr Alex Taylor studies wild birds for three months at a time in captivity before releasing them. He claims that 007 is the smartest bird he’s ever seen. Dr Taylor specifically created a puzzle for 007 he describes as “one of the most complex tests of the animal mind ever”.
During a BBC special, 007 was filmed completing the eight-stage puzzle in a matter of minutes. In the words of BBC reporter Chris Packham: “That was remarkable.”
This isn’t the first time crows have demonstrated that they are more than just crafty scavengers. Research has suggested that they have a large capacity for memory compared to other bird species, are able to switch between tasks seamlessly, and are actually able to recall human faces.
We’re trying really hard to see this in a positive, non-Alfred Hitchcock light.
Chaser, the canine wordsmith
Dr John Pilley, the loving owner of Chaser, an adorable female Border Collie, is a psychologist who knows that there’s much more to the mind of man’s best friend than people usually think. Dr Pilley used his knowledge of learning and the human mind to teach his nine year-old pup over 1000 words. Using soft toys, Dr Pilley taught Chaser referential names for objects at only five months of age. Since then, she has mastered conceptual understanding equal to that of a toddler and is able to select a specific toy on Dr Pilley’s command from a large pile.
Dr Pilley insists that Chaser isn’t necessarily unique and says any dog owner, with the right amount of knowledge and commitment, can train their dog to be a walking dictionary. We’ll take his word for it.
Alpine Ibexes, the rock-climbing goats
Imagine this: you’re new to the world, a mere toddler, and your parents force you to rockclimb without a harness, in the wild, on a mountain-side, while a hungry fox is in pursuit.
This species of mountain goat, found in the European Alps and also known as the steinbock, is able to scale sheer rock faces at angles of up to 60 degrees with ease from birth. The mountain dwellers are often forced to descend from great heights to find food for their vegetarian diets. This is both dangerous and incredibly challenging for animals with only hooves helping them hold on.
The animals received global attention when mind-blowing photos surfaced of some Alpine ibexes clinging to the sheer rock wall of an Italian dam in 2010. As evidenced by the David Attenborough clip below, their agile advantage also allows them to evade potential predators.
Alex, the parrot genius
Alex, the African grey parrot who passed away in 2007, could not only speak “Polly wants a cracker” style, but can also comprehend questions, recognise colours and shapes and count.
His owner, animal cognition scientist Dr Irene Pepperberg, ensured that Alex wasn’t just a master of mimicry or rote learning, but rather a fully functioning thinker who responded and reacted to his environment.
More than anything, Alex was a parrot with a strong personality. If Dr Pepperberg failed to greet him first when she arrived at work in the morning, he would be uncooperative for the rest of the day. He also had a cheeky sense of humour and a deep love for his owner and other humans.
When Dr Pepperberg placed him in his cage the night before he died, his last words to her were, “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”