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animal intelligence

The rough road to animal personhood

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Max undergoing surgery.
Max undergoing surgery.
Beaks are extremely important to birds, allowing them to hold objects and feed themselves. One can easily imagine the problems that a blue and gold macaw named Max experienced, when his beak was pulled off after two fights with other birds. Human caretakers helped him eat again, and when his remaining lower beak grew too long, they regularly shortened it so it was the right size for his tongue.

In search of a long-term solution, a South African team of veterinarians, doctors and other professionals led by Prof. Gerhard Steenkamp worked together to design and attach a 3D-printed beak for Max. As has been previously covered on Flayrah, many other animals have also received prosthetics when they've needed them.

Studies show animals have more cognitive and emotional lives than humans believe

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A recent study conducted at Harvard University (scientific paper) to examine working visual memory found that an African grey parrot was able to outperform 6-8-year-old human children. That might not be so amazing on its own — research has already shown various bird species to perform on par with human children — if it weren't for the third group in the comparison. The parrot also performed equally or better than a group of 18-30-year-old undergraduate students in 12/14 trials.

Video: Crow goes sledding down rooftop

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People, including scientists, have wondered for ages how intelligent crows are; alternately, under what conditions crows (or other animals) ever use tools as humans do. A recent video, shot at long distance in an uncontrolled situation, shows striking evidence of this. A crow finds a jar lid and takes it up to a snowy rooftop, where it stands on the lid and sleds down the roof. It then picks up the lid, returns to the rooftop, and sleds down again. Repeatedly.

Corvids reveal highly-developed communication abilities

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When people think of the most intelligent animals other than humans, the first contenders are the dolphins and great apes. A less-obvious one may be birds of the family Corvidae, containing both crows and ravens. This was suggested when researchers at Oxford found crows are able to make specific tools, a feat never before seen in other animals.

More recently, ravens have been shown to direct other individuals' attention through gestural communication; the first time this has been seen outside of the primates. In primates, such gestures are rarely seen in the wild. Why wild ravens show this behaviour more commonly is unknown, but it is thought by some to be the foundation of language.