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Which is the smartest animal - human or chimpanzee?

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 Male Chimpanzee at La Vallée de Singes, at Romagne

28 February 2023

This might seem like quite an easy question because a chimpanzee cannot, for example, write an answer to it like I am right now! However, it all depends on what you consider 'smart' to mean. Most people would probably say that intelligence means having a high IQ score or knowing a lot of things, but people are intelligent in different ways. For example, a rural fisherman on a remote island may not know very much about algebra or the countries of the world, but he does know a huge amount about fishing methods, how to read the sea and predict the weather, the ecology of all the fish and other sea life and may be able to speak many languages. Now, if we accept that intelligence takes many different forms, we quickly realise that looking back in time doesn't necessarily mean looking back in terms of intelligence. We know now, for example, that Neanderthals, our evolutionary cousins, were very intelligent. They even had bigger brains than us! But a big brain does not equal high intelligence either - many people wouldn't consider a whale as incredibly intelligent, yet they have a humungous brain. Chimpanzees have smaller brains than ours but we are discovering that they have very complex behaviours, for example they can heal themselves when they're ill using carefully chosen plants and different chimpanzee groups can develop their own unique cultures, just like humans.

Some studies have found that chimps can have a better memory than us too. UCL primatologist, Volker Sommer, uses these facts as well as the similarities in how chimps and humans feel pain and pleasure to argue that chimpanzees should be awarded human rights. An interesting point you could use to argue that chimps are actually more intelligent than humans is that Pan troglodytes (common chimps) have been around on Earth for approximately 2 million years, whereas Homo sapiens (us) have only been around for less than one sixth of this time and yet we have already caused catastrophic climate change and ecological crisis which jeopardizes our own chances of surviving. That doesn't seem very smart!