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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Smart Animals

In the late 1800s a German high school mathematics instructor named Wilhelm Von Osten had the idea that intelligence, character and personality were based on the shape of a person’s head. So, to test his wacky theory he decided to teach a cat, a bear and a horse, maths.

Hans, an Arab stallion, showed real promise in the classroom and with some extra tuition, when Osten would write a number on the blackboard Hans was able to tap out the correct number with his hoof. He could count all the way up to ten, which by today’s maths standards really is something.

Unfortunately, Osten’s theory was eventually discredited when they discovered Hans the horse was just reacting to his master tapping on the board.

Eight-year-old African grey parrot, N’kisi hit the news headlines a few years ago for being able to use words in context and verbs with past, present and future tenses. N’kisi is also able to use other words to phrase a sentence when he can’t quite think of the right one – he will say things like ‘pretty smell medicine’ to describe aromatherapy oils used by his owner and is also reported to have a great sense of humour.

Apparently, when another parrot hung upside down from its perch, N’kisi joked, “You gotta put this bird on camera.” And, on meeting revered primatologist Dr Jane Goodall after seeing her pictured with apes, he greeted her with, “Got a chimp?”

That’s, as they Yogi used to say, smarter than the average bear.

Made famous by 1960s sitcom, Mister Ed, this clever talking horse is probably the most famous of all the talking animals. The idea for the show was taken from a short story by Walter R Brooks, Ed Takes the Pledge. The US sitcom ran for an astounding seven years, so is the love of ours for talking animals.

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