Can an­i­mals count?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Q&A - Stu­art Black­man

Much de­bate sur­rounds whether any an­i­mals are able to count in the pre­cise, sym­bolic way that we hu­mans can. But many species – from par­rots to mon­keys and even bees – do ap­pear to have a ca­pac­ity for some sort of ba­sic nu­mer­acy. Asian ele­phants seem par­tic­u­larly good at it. They can dis­tin­guish be­tween pic­tures show­ing dif­fer­ent num­bers of fruit, even when the size of the fruit varies. This sug­gests they can think in num­bers specif­i­cally, and are not just es­ti­mat­ing over­all quan­tity. They are good at that, too, though – they can dis­tin­guish be­tween buck­ets con­tain­ing dif­fer­ent num­bers of sun­flower seeds just by sniff­ing them.

Ele­phants demon­strate a range of in­tel­li­gent be­hav­iours, such as tool-use, grief and self-aware­ness – and even nu­mer­acy.

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