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Left Coast / Right Coast: Really Smart Animals

Mike Gold skiing at Vail with his smart dog. Photo courtesy of Mike Gold.
Mike Gold skiing at Vail with his smart dog. Photo courtesy of Mike Gold.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

We’ve all seen animals perform tricks. That includes just about every animal on the planet. For example there are a number of companies that have trained animals for “rent” for making movies. Action Animals is one of these companies.

I guess one of the most memorable “real animal in the movies” was Bart the Bear He appeared in the film The Edge featuring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. The scenes where this bear was tracking (for dinner) three survivors of a plane crash in Alaska are so amazing you really wonder how they got a bear to do those things. (A spoiler, in the movie the bear does not survive.)

These stunts involve training any number of animals to do specific tasks. The training is actually very simple to understand. You encourage the animal to so some task. If the animal does anything close to what you want, you reward it with a snack. Eventually, the animal will do exactly what you want on command. All it takes are a lot of hours for each animal and stunt.

Some animals, dogs for example, are quite easy to train. Others, like lions and tigers take a fair amount of time longer (and the potential to lose a limb or two). Frankly, I would not want such a job.

Some of these animals make an amazing amount of money for their owners. For example, the dog Rin Tin Tin (there were actually a number of dogs who did this show) made about $6,000/week!

I wanted to write about animals, which display near human intelligence. Here are a few:

One of my favorites are Humpback Whales and their hunting techniques. A group of whales, say a half dozen, will submerge beneath a school of fish forming a circle. At this point they simultaneously exhale bubbles through their blowholes. The large amount of bubbles (they do this in a kind of formation – sort of a circle) they emit scares the fish into a clump in the middle of the rising bubbles. Then the whales attack, consuming perhaps a hundred pounds of fish each. This behavior shows clear intelligence traits. It makes you wonder how the whales initially communicated with each other to “work out” their behavior.

My next example is monkey hunting techniques for hunting termites. Termites are a favorite monkey food source, so they have learned a hunting technique that would be a credit to a human. They take a branch off a tree and strip it of all leaves. Then  they insert the resulting stick into a termite nest in a tree. The termites in the nest bite down on the stick and the monkey then removes the stick from the nest, and eats the live termites off the stick. Sort of like having a Good Humor termite bar. Again, to me this displays remarkable intelligence. It is true that over 98% of the DNA in a Chimpanzee is identical to humans. That’s because we descended from a common ancestor.

My last example is elephants, one of the ten smartest animals. If you click on this URL, you will read that elephants have been shown to display awareness. They have proven that an elephant can recognize itself in a mirror. Elephants mourn and remain in tightly-knit family groups for life. Their brain is many times the size of a human, although not as well developed as ours are. Elephants have been shown to communicate with each other with a large variety of sounds. It is clear to researchers that these sounds have specific meanings to the other elephants.

I believe our own dog seems to understand both my wife and myself. I know the human psychological tendency, called Anthropomorphism, ascribing human traits to our pets is not real. But I swear when I look into our dog’s eyes, it looks like he can see into my thoughts. Scary, in fact. It has also been shown that dogs can sense the moods of its human master. So just beware that before you “explode” in a fit of anger, pay attention to where your dog is. It could very well approach you and bark, lick your face (to calm you down), or best of all fetch you a cold beer from the fridge.

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