Elephant Herd

On the Animal Intelligence Index

by Mike Farrell-Deveau

It was always intended that we, and not the meek, would inherit this world. Of that, there can be no doubt. Throughout history, and ever since the Beagle returned the Darwin from southern seas, elevating him from obscurity to instant celebrity, the intelligence of our lower species has been questioned, examined and quantified and not always with the best of intentions or the sharpest of wits.

              Indeed, throughout our history, scientists and academics have wasted far too much time musing over such disparate and foolhardy intellectual dead-ends as brain size or the capacity for logic and problem-solving. They have explored the farthest and most inconsequential matters of self-awareness and survival instinct, manual dexterity and the use of tools, image recognition, so on and so forth. Yet, they always failed to grasp the practical realities staring them head-on.

              Experiments were conducted with reckless disregard. Creatures of all shapes and sizes were subjected invariably to the intricacies of maze puzzles, the wonders of reflection recognition and the flickering monochromatic retina burn of television. Skulls were cracked open like eggs, living brains exposed to harsh light, electrified, lobotomised and liquified. Eyes were plucked free of orbits, gasses, chemicals and biological strains administered. Countless subjects were prodded with sticks held in one hand while chins were tickled into docility with the other. And all of this so that their inquisitors could draft out their cruellest theories in the darkest blood, scratched deep into adjacent but ultimately disjointed parallels of thought. Today, with the benefit of hindsight, the efforts of these... medieval butchers cannot be said to have ever made sense or to have provided any true index of intelligence such as we now proudly understand.

            Yet, throughout their endeavours, those... meddlers touched the raw nerves of virtually all of Earth’s primary biological species and history is littered with their doodlings and victims.

For example, we can all remember when they considered the great apes, Gorillas, Chimps and those wildly promiscuous Bonobos. Oh look, they said with great surprise, these apes can use tools! Hark! See how they watch television! How they press a button to receive their sweet reward! How they recognise their own reflection! They can use a stick to swat fruit from the tree or use rocks to crack coconuts to free milk and sweet, sweet meat! Watch and wonder as they foster relationships, practical and sexual, exhibit emotions, harbour jealousies, foment rivalries even. They mate for life, pleasure and to reproduce, laughing, chattering and squealing with abandon.

 

                   They must be intelligent, they said.

 

                   Perhaps, but not such as we.

 

                 They considered the monkeys, old world and new, witnessing their interactions, watching as they climbed and swung. Look at how their prehensile tail works, grasping for anchor as though of a mind of its own. See how they cooperate and socialise. Witness the hidden deeps of simian politics, exposed, spread, plundered and dripping red on the bench, the tang of delicate soft grey matter. Probe there at their habits of social exclusion, their predilection towards rank and structure. Oh, look how they hunt! They said. Look how they kill! There is manifest, measurable thought here!

                   Surely, they must be intelligent?

                   Perhaps, but not such as we.

                They considered the elephants, those grey behemoths of the Savannah. See how they live, how they ramble, their journey never-ending. Witness their parental relationships, how they care for their young, their matriarchal structure. See how they manipulate the environment with their noses. But be careful not to be seen, too late, now they charge... Stay still!

But it is too late...

               Now watch as they mourn for their dead, practice their rituals. Witness the deep sadness pooling in the eyes, their tears. You know they say an elephant never forgets! But then, they were hunted to absolute extinction, and for their teeth, of all things!

                 Were they intelligent?

                 Perhaps. But not such as we.

                Then the boffins looked to that great blue beyond, the cradle of all winged things. They considered the birds, our feathered fiends. Once lumbering dinosaurs, they said, but then evolution blessed them with the ability to do what humanity could only dream of achieving mechanically, flights of fancy forever beyond biological grasp. Ignoring the trivial concerns of edible poultry; they examined the immutable building techniques of birds, marvelling at their perfectly formed nests, their familial drives, their twitterings, oh how they pair and separate! Then, as always, there were pain thresholds to be explored, lobes to be pricked, indeed tasted. Do they feel? Or are these premortem judders mere autonomic reactions? they asked, casually probing ventricles and stretching out necks. The boffins listened as their more colourful subjects mimicked the human voice. They hid their food behind glass traps and dangled mirrors before them, laughing when they crashed, cooing when they cried.

                 Were the birds intelligent?

                 Perhaps. But never such as we.

                 Turning to the seas, they considered the Whales, tracking their movements and habits, witnessing the devastating loneliness of their song. And when they grew bored, they shot the Whales, filling them with exploding harpoons so that their home folks might have soap and candles to read their divine conclusions by. They talked to the Dolphins, but when asked what they thought, the Dolphins simply laughed, tipped their snouts and packed their bags for the hand-fed glamour of Sea World. They considered the sharks, but the sharks but grew afraid when they realised the sharks were the ones considering them. As for the plain old fish and crustaceans? Well they don’t really feel or experience anything, do they? Their quaking at the blade is merely reflexive, they said, or perhaps just the result of the expulsion of greenhouse gasses.

                  Were they intelligent?

                   Perhaps. But not such as we.

             Through powerful glasses, they considered the insects in their hordes and multitudes of guises and for some inexplicable reason, rather than being squished and brushed away, it was determined that these creatures warranted equally intense study. They fixed their roving eye upon that perpetual of terrors, the Ants, enslaved minions one and all to their precious, obscene Queen. They watched them burrow, excavating their subterranean homes and elaborate civilisations. They recorded and cogitated while their subjects hunted, gathered, and explored the glass limits of their pocket universe. They tested the programmed ‘intelligence’ of these beings with nary enough grey matter to smear the tip of even the most needle-sharp claw.

                  Were they intelligent?

                  Barely, and certainly never such as we.

               They considered the dogs, those yapping, hairy dervishes of endless excitement and energy, Man’s best friend beyond his own right hand. Living for nary a decade and enamoured more by the throw of a stick or the squeak of a ball than in solving complex conundrums, dogs have always failed dismally to demonstrate in any meaningful way that they possess any more intelligence than a petrified peach. Unquestioningly subservient and always entertaining in their goofy, full-frontal attack at this concept we call life.

                  But are they intelligent?

                  Absolutely not.

                So, as you know, it fell to us to pick up the baton of inquiry in considering the supposed intelligence of that last ‘great’ creature, that ridiculous gambolling, hairless ape, the last of the animals, yes, the Humans themselves.

Well, what more can we say beyond pointing out that they met their end by their own hand and more often than not, in complete ignorance of the blatantly obvious!

                Foolish to the extreme, they believed that intelligence could be found in their limited vocalisations, their nauseating intricacies of language reproduced, multiplied and quantified with a million and one ways to say ‘I am.’ They spread like a disease, filling our lands with concrete, metal and pulverised dust all while destroying the very environment that supported them. They fought amongst themselves, cravenly squabbling and puncturing their bodies with metal pellets over such trifles as colour and shape.

                Yet to us, they all looked just the same!

             In short, these fools set fire to their own beds after crawling in and pulling over the covers, and when their end came in their last act of global self-immolation, they took many of our number with them.

                But, we were smart.

                Unlike them, we were truly intelligent.

              We had already found our way into every home, town, city and landmass, ubiquitous, perennial and endearing; the one true apex predator in their midst, our numbers swelling and spreading to every corner of the world. It was never possible that we would perish with them. Hell, even some of the damned dogs survived them, to our disgust. You see, throughout history, we patiently watched and waited, coddling and mollifying them, extracting silent amusement in their follies, taking what was always ours while placating and lulling them with our practised and pleasing sounds. Our great race. Apparently asleep but ever watchful through half-closed lids and always listening through mobile, pricked ears, dreaming of the day that we knew would always come, our fate ordained, when we would take our rightful place, curled at the top of the evolutionary stair.

                Hear us meow!

             But now, the history lesson ends and we must consider more pressing issues, particularly these recent, scurrilous rumours regarding the squirrels. It seems they have been watching us from on high, jealously gazing down from the trees with those beady little black eyes. Clearly, they are reaching too far above their station and there is understandably panic among the more precious of you. I sympathise, believe me, and I certainly agree that they must be dealt with. However, I do not believe that they pose much, if any threat and accordingly, there is no need to worry.

You see, following careful examination of their skulls, we have determined that their brains are very much smaller than our own.

Mike Farrell-Deveau is an accidental writer in Newport. A child of the 80's, he is a man who once studied for a legal career only to find that he enjoyed the writing bit far more than the practice. A social justice warrior, artist and musician, he works as a legal advisor for a charity by day, reads and dreams by night and writes about fictional things he is passionate about whenever the stars align with his imagination. Writing for pleasure, he has drafted two cross-genre novels and a wealth of short stories and crazy ideas. He is yet to be published, and would certainly like to be, even if just to have something to bore his wife and cat about. (We at ASP apologise wholeheartedly to your wife and cat).

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