sun 14/04/2024

Super Smart Animals, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Super Smart Animals, BBC One

Super Smart Animals, BBC One

Fascinating if surface-skimming look at a whole new world of animal intelligence

'Now, how many bananas was it that you said I’d get for doing this?'

We humans think we’re the bee’s knees don’t we? We’ve got language, music, art, cars, fridges, bank accounts. Essentially we’ve left all of the other planet’s creatures faltering on the starting line.

Well, if that’s what you believe then it may have come as a surprise to see a chimp on last night’s Super Smart Animals solving a number-centred memory challenge that we oh-so-superior primates couldn’t even begin to do, and doing it so quickly and effortlessly that the chimp was suspected of having learnt it by rote.

Welcome to a world which of course has always been there, it’s just that we’re only now beginning to discover the fact. We met the boxer crabs who wave poisonous anemones to scare off predators, the herrings who use bread given to them by tourists as bait to catch fish, the LA dog that loves skateboarding and numerous other animals who have found new ways to navigate and exploit their world whether in captivity or in the wild.

Super Smart Animals was essentially Horizon-lite. In other words, there wasn’t too much science scaring the horses

Super Smart Animals was essentially Horizon-lite. In other words, there wasn’t too much science scaring the horses. Scientific and philosophical questions about the divide between intelligence and instinct were touched on, but only in the form of cute little experiments which demonstrated that animals could think on their feet or flippers when faced with challenges they wouldn’t face in the wild. But really the focus was on jumping to the next critter and continent as quickly as possible, for fear our attention might drift if things got too bogged down by analysis.

Although, to be fair, moving on quickly also had to be the nature of the beast – because there were a lot of beasts to cover. This business of how sentient our fellow Earth dwellers are is still relatively virgin territory. Thousands of years of religions insisting we distance ourselves from our more hirsute and aquatic relatives has left us disproportionately surprised to even see a parrot screech “pretty Polly”. But having said that, there were a couple of parrots featured but they weren’t just mimics. They’d leant to differentiate colours, shapes, textures etc, so that when asked about the particular characteristics of an object they could respond appropriately.

But perhaps it was the human animal we inadvertently learnt most about. On the one hand we were told that it was all the leisure time at the disposal of that skateboarding dog that prompted him to take up this hobby. Yet on the other hand we were told it was the lack of leisure time (the demands created by a harsh environment) that made one species of jay a more efficient problem solver than his counterpart with a cushier lifestyle. Make your mind up, humans! What this suggested was that we are still reluctant to just give credit where credit's due, insisting that external factors (even if they are contradictory) are needed to nudge our stick-in-the-mud ancestors into doing something remarkable.

Presenter Liz Bonnin didn’t have the BBC old-school gravitas of, say, David Attenborough, but she wasn’t just a smile on legs either

Presenter Liz Bonnin didn’t have the old-school BBC gravitas of, say, David Attenborough, but she wasn’t just a smile on legs either. Like the Blue Peter presenters of old, she was more than happy to get her hands dirty and body wet, all in the name of getting down with any creature great or small that had something extra going on upstairs. But her greatest asset was that she seemed genuinely thrilled to have the best job in the world. When she conversed with a bonobo ape using hundreds of symbols the ape had learnt, her enthusiasm for the task and instant rapport with the animal was touching. As was the moment she bubbled over with excitement on encountering humpback whales in Alaska who had gone out of their way to come up to the boat to say hello. She was also genuinely moved when they snorted their goodbyes.

But these two scenes occur tonight in part two - the better of the two programmes. Better because the focus moves to the languages we are discovering animals have already, rather than the ones we have imposed upon them. Yes, I know, you pretty much reached saturation point with big-budget BBC nature documentaries several years ago – enough with sumptuously shot footage of the marvels of our planet, I hear you cry. But trust me, you’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen a bonobo ape planning a picnic.

  • Super Smart Animals part two is on BBC One tonight at 8pm
You’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen a bonobo ape planning a picnic

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that made one species of jay a more efficient problem solver than his counterpart with a cushier lifestyle I don't think it was a jay in this instance, the Jay was involved in getting the worm from the tube using the cork and heavier objects. It made the choice between the two.

does anyone know what the song is called on super smart animals which starts in the 56th minute on episode 2?

Regarding the elephant's self awareness via the mirror. My daughter has an orange winged conure who has a shower with her, after which she holds her wings out to get dried with an electric hair dryer. After this and without any instruction or coaxing she goes to the dressing table and preens her feathers in front of the mirror. During the preening session she frequently turns around to view the results and adjusts any feathers acordingly until fully satisfied. She also knows that food comes out of the microwave and opens the cupboard to reach her favourite cereals. She also knows the colours of food packets and searches the shopping bag for her preferred delicacies, especially smoked salmon. I have a citron crested cockatoo who talks for England with perfect diction. He has a very large vocabulary of words and phrases and uses them in context. He has never been specifically taught but has learned to ask for tickles which after a while becomes soporific for the provider. As my hand slows down he immediately turns around, taps my arm and says 'more tickle' returning immediately to the favorite postion, this can last for well over an hour. If we ignore his request he gets more insistant and on a couple of occasions has demanded to my wife 'stop that now, Oscar Baby Boy wants tickle NOW' with great emphasis on the last now'.He also seems to be telepathic as he knows when we are going out before we even start to prepare then says 'by by see you later' or asks where we are going. He also has a very well honed ability to realise when any of us are not feeling too well even before we realise any thing is wrong, he will cimb on to us and cuddle up, Jazz, my daughter's conure does the same. He and Jazz are easily as intelligent as a five or six year old child, there is never a dull moment with a parrot, never under estimate them.

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