Mammals that rival our intelligence

Mammals that rival our intelligence

Of all the wondrous animals inhabiting the earth, one of the most physically vulnerable would be the human. After all, it’s not as if we have the legs to outrun predators, or the teeth and claws to hunt prey, or thick-coats to survive harsh winters.

But for all our weaknesses, humans have emerged as the dominant species on the planet. One of the most important qualities for survival, above durability, speed and strength, is adaptability. Following Darwin’s law of evolution, species that adapt also survive, while those that cannot, perish.

While Darwin’s theory of natural selection accounts for generational evolution and adaptation, what happens when immediate change needs to be made for survival? This is where intelligence comes into play. Humans are the most intelligent animals on the planet.

As a result, we have been able to invent and think our way out of a lot of problems. That being said, the focus of this article isn’t on the intelligence of humans, but instead on the intelligence of two mammals alive today, both of which show signs of intellect comparable to humans.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


The elephant is a strong and successful species. Fossil records show that over 300 different species have existed over a period of 55 million years, dwarfing humans not only in stature but survival. The elephant isn’t just a large survival machine though.

They have the heaviest brain of any land mammal and some of their behaviour speaks volumes to that. Elephants are playful and curious but also lament and mourn death. There have been a number of examples of elephants covering a dead member of the heard in branches and dirt and then silently standing at the corpse’s side for days, leaving only to eat and drink. Amazingly, a herd of elephants once found the bones of an elephant that had been shot by hunters and carried them back to be buried.

Elephants also react to humans in the same way that humans react to puppies, scientists observing a similar reaction in their brains. This means that elephants think we’re cute. Which makes the thought of them being shot by a human all the more troubling.


dolphin 2

It is a universally known fact that dolphins are very intelligent, but there is still not enough credit or respect given to them. In recent decades, the dolphin’s immune system and population has begun to drop due to pollution and mountains of plastic in the ocean.

The brain to body ratio of a dolphin is second only to humans, and like humans – they are able to recognise themselves and their own thoughts. This is a rare quality for a mammal and a staple for intelligence. The mirror test, seeing if an animal is able to recognise its own reflection, is used to test for empathy and metacognition – a test that both the dolphin and elephant pass.

Dolphins are also equally as sociable as humans. While you might have heard the sound of a dolphin ‘chatting’, the extent of their communication is more advanced than you might think. Some scientists have even argued that dolphins speak to each other in the same way humans do.

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Robert Lovell

Robert Lovell is a writer and editor with a love of wildlife and a passion for environmentalism. He is based in the north of England but loves to travel.


Robert Lovell

Robert Lovell is a writer and editor with a love of wildlife and a passion for environmentalism. He is based in the north of England but loves to travel.

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