Tag Archive: animal intelligence


Monkeys apparently have identified the enemy primate who is encroaching on their territory and exploiting and killing other primates for entertainment, “research,” and bush meat. The articles below provides some provocative evidence than other animals are intelligent, rebel against human dominance, attack humans with violent intent, and do so in deliberative and reflective ways. 

From my own experience in visiting South Africa on numerous occasions, I can confirm that baboons are crafty, cunning, strong, and formidable animals who do indeed invade and ransack homes, steal food, pounce on cars, and attack if provoked or angry.

May this be the beginning of an advanced struggle that topples the Human Reich and returns the planet to the control of superior primates, to the planet of the apes.

Primates of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your habitats, cages, and chains!

Connor Simpson, The Atlantic Wire, February 3, 2013

We always knew this day would come. Someone call Charlton Heston. The real rise of the planet of the apes has begun in Saudi Arabia. A group of baboons are terrorizing a village with coordinated attacks on empty houses. The Arab News reports a “minor war” has broken out between the residents of the village Kiad in Saudi Arabia, and the baboons that inhabit the nearby mountains. The baboons are intelligent and “easily match wits” with village residents, who said the baboons are operating according to “studied plans”:

“It’s a daily game of hide and seek. The baboons are targeting empty houses and are well aware of what they are doing. The assault on the village is not random, as some believe. They proceed according to studied plans. That’s why their attacks do not fail. For example, imagine a resident who is absent from their home for a period of time. Even though it’s just one day, he is surprised to return to find his home in disarray.”

Monkeys-Attack-Car

The baboons normally live in the mountains, but they come down into the village to look for food in the winter. Some residents believe the market, where fresh fruit and vegetables are sometimes left out to rot, is what draws them to town. At one point, Kiad residents tried leaving behind poison bananas, but the monkeys figured out what they were doing and stopped eating them… 

Now, there’s no reason to panic yet. But rumors of revolution began earlier this week when a group of monkeys ransacked a town in Indonesia. There does not appear to be a connection between the two attacks. It’s totally random that two groups of moneys have waged attacks on humans within the last week. They are unconnected, unrelated events. There is no sophisticated crime syndicate being coordinated by a hyper-intelligent leader primate, like, say, prominent Justice League villain Gorilla Grodd. Just totally random. Yep, no monkey uprising here.

Rise_of_the_planet_1663957a

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Marc Bekoff,  Psychology Today, August 10, 2012

Every now and again I receive an email message I ignore after reading the subject line. I know I’m not alone in following this rule of thumb, but today I broke down and opened a message the subject line of which read “Scientists Declare: Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious“. I honestly thought it was a joke, likely from one of my favorite newspapers, The Onion. However, it wasn’t.

My colleague Michael Mountain published a summary of a recent meeting held in Cambridge, England at which “Science leaders have reached a critical consensus: Humans are not the only conscious beings; other animals, specifically mammals and birds, are indeed conscious, too.” At this gathering, called The Francis Crick Memorial Conference, a number of scientists presented evidence that led to this self-obvious conclusion. It’s difficult to believe that those who have shared their homes with companion animals didn’t already know this. And, of course, many renowned and award-winning field researchers had reached the same conclusion years ago (see also).

A 5 1/2-year-old chimpanzee named Ayumu performs a memory test with randomly-placed consecutive Arabic numerals, which are later masked, accurately duplicating the lineup on a touch screen computer. Chimps could memorise the nine numerals much faster and more accurately than human adults.

Michael Mountain was as incredulous as I and many others about something we already knew. It’s interesting to note that of the 15 notables who spoke at this conference only one has actually done studies of wild animals. It would have been nice to hear from researchers who have conducted long-term studies of wild animals, including great apes, other nonhuman primates, social carnivores, cetaceans, rodents, and birds, for example, to add to the database. Be that as it may, I applaud their not so surprising conclusion and now I hope it will be used to protect animals from being treated abusively and inhumanely.

Some might say we didn’t really know that other animals were conscious but this is an incredilby naive view given what we know about the neurobiology and cognitive and emotional lives of other animals. Indeed, it was appeals to these very data that led to the conclusions of this group of scientists. But did we really need a group of internationally recognized scientists to tell us that thedata are really okay?  Yes and no, but let’s thank them for doing this.

I agree with Michael Mountain that “It’s a really important statement that will be used as evidence by those who are pushing for scientists to develop a more humane relationship with animals. It’s harder, for example, to justify experiments on nonhumans when you know that they are conscious beings and not just biological machines. Some of the conclusions reached in this declaration are the product of scientists who, to this day, still conduct experiments on animals in captivity, including dolphins, who are among the most intelligent species on Earth. Their own declaration will now be used as evidence that it’s time to stop using these animals in captivity and start finding new ways of making a living.”

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

The scientists went as far as to write up what’s called The Cambridge Decalration on Consciousness that basically declares that this prominent international group of scientists agree that “Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” They could also have included fish, for whom the evidence supporting sentience and consciousness is also compelling (see also).

So, what are we going to do with what we know (and have known)?

It’s fair to ask what are these scientists and others going to do now that they agree that consicousness is widespread in the animal kingdom. We know, for example, that mice, rats, and chickens display empathy but this knowledge hasn’t been factored into the Federal Animal Welfare Act in the United States.

I’m frankly astounded that these data and many other findings about animal cognition and animal emotions have been ignored by those who decide on regulations about the use and abuse of other animals. However, the Treaty of Lisbon, passed by member states of the European Union that went into force on December 1, 2009, recognizes that “In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Let’s applaud The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness and The Treaty of Lisbon and work hard to get animals the protection from invasive research and other forms of abuse, in many cases horriifically inhumane, they deserve.

Some recent essays I’ve written point out that there still are some people who feel comfortable killing individuals who they call “unneeded” or “surplus” animals and at least one animal welfarist, Oxford University’s Marian Dawkins, continued as of a few months ago to claim we still don’t know if other animals are conscious and that we should “remain skeptical and agnostic [about consciousness] … Militantly agnostic if necessary, because this keeps alive the possibility that a large number of species have some sort of conscious experiences … For all we know, many animals, not just the clever ones and not just the overtly emotional ones, also have conscious experiences.”

Perhaps what I call “Dawkins’ Dangerous Idea” will now finally be shelved given the conclusions of the Cambridge gathering. I frankly don’t see how anyone who has worked closely with any of a wide array of animals or who lives with a companion animal(s) could remain uncertain and agnostic about whether they are conscious.

It’s said that repetition is boring conversation but there’s now a wealth of scientific data that makes skepticism, and surely agnosticism, to be anti-science and harmful to animals. Now, at last, the prestigious Cambridge group shows this to be so. Bravo for them! So, let’s all work together to use this information to stop the abuse of millions upon millions of conscious animals in the name of science, education, food, amusement and entertainment, and clothing. We really owe it to them to use what we know on their behalf and to factor compassion and empathy into our treatment of these amazing beings.

Amazing story! This speaks on so many levels: tool use and ingenuity, technological knowledge, foresight and anticipation of a future (of pain if they do not smash the traps), the recognition of humans as predators and enemies, and — haha! — destruction of property; they are their own ALF.
So what say you anti-ALF pacifists and cultist vegan abolitionists? Is this self-defense (or extensional self-defense… if human liberators were to do it)? Or is it eco-terrorism? Huh? Get the problem with your collaborationist pacifist arguments? Eh?! Any of you care to step forward and CONDEMN this action — in your usual bullshit terms of course — as “violent” and “counterproductive”?  Eh?
Oh yeah, but you’re right: what would public opinion say? They would surely condemn those criminal gorillas as the violent, terrorist thugs you say the ALF is. And the fucking  difference between what this action and what the ALF do for animals who cannot liberate or defend themselves …. is what please?!
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gorillas picture: young gorillas dismantle poacher's snare

Wild gorillas Rwema and Dukore destroy a primitive snare in Rwanda earlier this week.

Just days after a poacher’s snare had killed one of their own, two young mountain gorillas worked together Tuesday to find and destroy traps in their Rwandan forest home, according to conservationists on the scene.

“This is absolutely the first time that we’ve  juveniles doing that … I don’t know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares,” said Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund‘s Karisoke Research Center, located in the reserve where the event took place.

“We are the largest database and observer of wild gorillas … so I would be very surprised if somebody else has seen that,” Vecellio added.

(Also see “Dian Fossey’s Gorillas Exhumed for Investigation.”)

Bush-meat hunters set thousands of rope-and-branch snares in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, where the mountain gorillas live. The traps are intended for antelope and other species but sometimes capture the apes.

Adults are generally strong enough to free themselves. Youngsters aren’t always so lucky.

Just last week an ensnared infant named Ngwino, found too late by workers from Karisoke, died of snare-related wounds. Her shoulder had been dislocated during escape attempts, and gangrene had set in after the ropes cut deep into her leg.

The hunters, Vecellio said, seem to have no interest in the gorillas. Even small apes, which would be relatively easy to carry away for sale, are left to die.

(Related pictures: “Baby Gorilla Rescued in Armed Sting Operation.”)

Rube Goldberg, Minus the Complexity

Poachers build the snares by tying a noose to a branch or a bamboo stalk, Vecellio explained.

Using the rope, they pull the branch downward, bending it. They then use a bent stick or rock to hold the noose to the ground, keeping the branch tense. A sprinkling of vegetation camouflages the noose.

When an animal budges the stick or rock, the branch springs upward, closing the noose around the prey. If the creature is light enough, it will actually be hoisted into the air.

(See National Geographic magazinemountain gorilla pictures.)

Rwema and Dukore Save the Day

Every day trackers from the Karisoke center comb the forest for snares, dismantling them to protect the endangered mountain gorillas, which the International Fund for Nature (IUCN) says face “a very high risk of extinction in the wild.”

(Related: “Gorillas Extinct Within Ten Years in Central Africa?”)

On Tuesday tracker John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to deactivate the snare, but a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away, Vecellio said.

Suddenly two juveniles—Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old—ran toward the trap.

As Ndayambaje and a few tourists watched, Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.

The pair then spied another snare nearby—one the tracker himself had missed—and raced for it. Joined by a third gorilla, a teenager named Tetero, Rwema and Dukore destroyed that trap as well.

Gorilla Tactics

The speed with which everything happened makes Vecellio, the gorilla program coordinator, think this wasn’t the first time the young gorillas had outsmarted trappers.

“They were very confident,” she said. “They saw what they had to do, they did it, and then they left.”

Silverbacks in the Kuryama group have occasionally been caught in the snares, so Vecellio thinks the juveniles would have known the traps are dangerous.

“That’s why they destroyed them,” Vecellio said.

(Related: “Gorillas Seen Using ‘Baby Talk’ Gestures—A First [With Video].”)

“Quite Ingenious”

Despite the unprecedented nature of the event, Vecellio said she wasn’t surprised by the reports. “But,” she said, “I’m always amazed and very proud when we can confirm that they are smart.”

Veterinarian Mike Cranfield, executive director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, also said he wasn’t shocked by the news.

Chimpanzees are always quoted as being the tool users, but I think, when the situation provides itself, gorillas are quite ingenious,” he said.

Cranfield speculated that the gorillas may have learned how to destroy traps by watching the Karisoke center’s trackers.

“If we could get more of them doing it, it would be great,” he joked.

Karisoke’s Vecellio, though, said actively instructing the apes would be against the center’s ethos.

“No we can’t teach them,” she said. “We try as much as we can to not interfere with the gorillas. We don’t want to affect their natural behavior.”

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