Thursday, September 13, 2007

More on Animal Intelligence

I’ve blogged before on animal intelligence, like their ability to tell time. This week, I was sad to hear about the death of an African grey parrot named Alex. Poor Alex was only 31, which is young for a parrot to go. African greys are really special birds, since they speak and understand English extremely well.

Alex knew over 100 words. He held intelligent conversations with people and was featured on several television shows. He made up his own descriptive words, such as “banerry” to mean apple since it tasted similar to other fruits he knew--bananas and cherries. And he even complained to colleague African greys that they should “talk better.”

Of course, describing Alex’s intelligence was clearly comparing him to humans. An article I read said that he had the intelligence of a 5-year-old kid, and could communicate like a 2-year-old. But a number of years ago, I wrote the manuscript for a book that will never be published, featuring dolphins. One of the things I learned from my research was that using people as a standard doesn’t fully allow for other kinds of intelligence.

From all that I read and learned, dolphins may be every bit as intelligent as people, maybe even more so, in their own oceanic environments. Perhaps they are studying us at the same time we think we’re studying them. Fascinating!

My story won’t be published because it was partly based on the horrors of dolphins being captured and killed in tuna nets. Today, tuna cans are often labeled as being “dolphin safe.” Does that mean that the fishing is done in a manner that truly protects dolphins? Not really. The practice is considered “safe” because fewer are being killed than before. An improvement? Sure. But how would we feel if only a few human lives were taken in the hunt by other creatures for their dinners?

Okay, I’ll get off this particular soap box for now. But I won’t try to resurrect my story as it was, since people today are probably inclined to take “dolphin safe” at face value.

In any event, I still love the idea of other creatures being smart, and, sometimes, able to communicate with us--except if they start telling us what they really think of us!



Kathryn Lilley said...

I haven't yet mustered the discipline to become a Vegan, but I wish we could somehow spare the animals that routinely get sacrificed for our food fare. I remember a line from Star Man--the visitor, talking about his alien race, says "We do not prey on the weaker species." A goal to aspire to!

Camille Minichino said...

Have you read "Fast Food Nation?" One of many books that might put you over the edge, Kathryn. Though the emphasis is on the fast food business, it's not hard to extrapolate.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Yes, Fast Food Nation was the book that turned my daugher into a vegetarian, Camille (in the sixth grade, I might add!). She gave it to me to read, and it was an eye-opener!

Linda O. Johnston said...

As much as I cringe to think where my food comes from, I doubt I could ever become a Vegan or vegetarian. Guess I'm a hypocrite, but I can't even watch shows on Animal Planet or otherwise where animals prey on one another, even though that's the natural scheme of things.