Think Like An Animal

New research dispels old myths about animal intelligence.
Available on CBC Gem

Think Like An Animal

Nature of Things

How smart are animals? Traditionally, we’ve answered that question by comparing them to us. But recently scientists have begun to Think Like an Animal.

In this entertaining, thought-provoking documentary, we explore exciting new research and dispel old myths about how animals really think. From the foothills of the Canadian Rockies to a nature reserve in South Africa, Think Like an Animal features cutting edge researchers and the fascinating creatures they’re studying - animals that possess more complex cognitive skills and emotional depth than we humans once assumed. 

Think Like an Animal features species that have largely been ignored or underestimated, with surprising results: bearded dragons that imitate each other, fish that deceive one another, tortoises that are anything but slow, sperm whales that have underwater conversations.

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“We’re such a self-absorbed species,” points out Louise Barrett, a University of Lethbridge psychology professor who studies social cognition at the Vervet Monkey Research Project in South Africa.  “We’re always asking are they as clever as us? Can they do what we do?

Prof. Barrett’s approach is quite different; to her, intelligence is all about what an animal needs to know in order to survive in its world, not ours. After all, she notes, “we are just another animal.”

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Hummingbirds are amazing at remembering the location and types of flowers.

“They’re smarter than me,” laughs Canadian biologist Andy Hurly, as he demonstrates an experiment testing the memory skills of wild hummingbirds. Despite having brains the size of a grain of rice, these beautiful birds can not only remember the exact location of a flower – they remember when they last visited that flower to sample its nectar.

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And then there’s Esther the Wonder Pig. “Esther is 650 pounds of pure genius,” marvels Steve Jenkins. Jenkins and his partner have always been animal lovers. When they were approached to take in a so-called “mini-pig,” they had no idea that they were actually adopting a commercial farm pig. But Esther is no ordinary house pet; she quickly learned how to open doors, sneak into the refrigerator, and head straight to the tub for bathtime.

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Meet Esther the Wonder Pig
Listen to an interview with director Leora Eisen

SCENE FROM THE FILM: Sperm whales communicate in their own language, complete with local dialects.

Featuring spectacular cinematography including underwater footage of sperm whales and hummingbirds in slow motion, Think Like an Animal is a unique visual experience. And by providing a glimpse into the inner lives of animals and challenging conventional wisdom, the film raises important questions about how we humans think about and treat our fellow creatures.
 

Credits