Looking at some of the animals inhabiting the earth, you would have to concede that humans, by contrast, are not as physically durable to the elements or confrontation. Yet, for all our vulnerability, over the last few centuries humans have emerged as the dominant species on the planet.
So, why is this? The most important quality for survival, above strength and durability, is adaptability. Naturally, animals evolve over many years to better suit their environment as the animals most adapted will survive and reproduce, but when the adaptation needs to happen quickly, there is one attribute that will make or break the organism – intelligence.
Humans are the most intelligent animal on the planet and as a result have been able to invent their way to dominance. But we’re not the only intelligent sentients out there, the following is a list of three species whose intellect and intuition have enabled them to exist on earth since before mankind.
- Dolphin: you might have heard about dolphins being clever before, but do you know how clever? The dolphin’s brain to body size is second only to humans and is capable of communicating, empathising and there is even research to suggest that they can recognise their own thoughts, an ability called metacognition. Dolphins display their intelligence on a daily basis, they have complex hunting systems relying on certain members of the group performing certain tasks, they mourn their dead and they empathise (there have been a number of reports that dolphins have carried drowning humans to the surface). They can also be trained to recognise symbols and syntax within language, for example, a dolphin would be able to distinguish ‘bring the ball to me’ and ‘bring me to the ball.’ Amazingly, dolphins also have dialects and customs. Scientists have noted that the way in which dolphins greet each other, hunt and rear their young, given that they are passed down, differs depending on where they are from.
- Chimpanzee: while a chimpanzee couldn’t write an academic paper, although enough of them are said to be able to write Shakespeare, they are incredibly smart animals. Intelligence, as far as in animals, really comes down to the ability to learn through experience. One test that is recycled to determine whether an animal is self-aware, is the mirror test. Similarly to the dolphin, the chimpanzee will recognise itself. Chimpanzees also mourn their dead and have been known to use tools to forage and hunt food. Chimpanzees also react communally and with curiosity during solar and lunar eclipses, gathering at the highest ground and pointing to the sky, which is only really a few steps behind posting a picture of the eclipse online for your friends to see.
- Elephant: another animal to pass the mirror-test is the elephant. Boasting the heaviest brain of any land mammal, the elephant is playful, empathic and innovative. Like the previous animals, the elephant also shows sadness during another’s death. There have been a number of examples where elephants have silently stood around a deceased member of the herd for days, only leaving for food and water, even covering the corpse with dust and branches, like an actual burial and grieving period. One case, following the shooting of an african elephant, states that the body, after being left some distance from the herd, was found and its bones taken back to its place of death by the elephants.