Chimpanzees Crowned as World’s Smartest Animals: A Look At The Top Contenders


primate sitting on grass

When we think of intelligence, humans often come first to mind. But the animal kingdom is full of surprises, showcasing creatures with remarkable problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence. From the depths of the ocean to the vast skies, animals demonstrate cognitive abilities that can rival, and sometimes surpass, human ingenuity.

World’s Smartest Animals: Ranked

RankAnimalWhy They’re Considered Smart
1Chimpanzees (and Great Apes in general)Tool use, complex social structures, problem-solving, possible self-awareness
2Dolphins & WhalesHighly developed communication, social learning, problem-solving
3ElephantsExceptional memory, complex social bonds, empathy
4Crows (and Corvids in general)Tool use, problem-solving, advanced cognitive abilities like planning for the future
5OctopusesComplex problem-solving, camouflage and mimicry abilities, observational learning
6DogsSocial intelligence, ability to understand human communication, learn complex tasks
7PigsSurprisingly high problem-solving capabilities, adaptable, possible self-awareness
8African Grey ParrotsAdvanced language mimicry, can understand abstract concepts, potential for simple reasoning
*Intelligence is notoriously difficult to measure across species, so take the ranking as an indication, not an absolute.

Important Notes:

  • Intelligence is multifaceted: Different animals excel in different kinds of intelligence.
  • Research is ongoing: Animal intelligence is continuously being studied, so these rankings may shift in the future.
  • Other contenders: Animals like squirrels, raccoons, and even some insects show surprising intelligence, though perhaps not at the level listed above.

Chimpanzees, sharing 99 percent of their DNA with humans, stand out as some of the smartest animals. They create complex social structures, use tools, and exhibit self-awareness. But they’re not alone. Rats, for example, can accomplish tasks in minutes that would take humans days, proving that size doesn’t always correlate with brainpower. This article explores the fascinating world of animal intelligence, shedding light on the creatures that make us rethink what it means to be smart.

Key Takeaways

  • Animals across various species, including chimpanzees, rats, dogs, dolphins, cephalopods, birds, and elephants, demonstrate remarkable levels of intelligence and cognitive abilities beyond what was once thought possible.
  • Chimpanzees are highly intelligent, showcasing advanced problem-solving skills, tool use, and emotional intelligence, indicating complex societal structures and deep empathetic capacities similar to humans.
  • Rats possess a surprising cognitive agility, capable of complex decision-making, demonstrating empathy, and even exhibiting metacognition, challenging the perception of them merely as pests.
  • Cephalopods, particularly octopuses, have demonstrated impressive problem-solving skills, such as navigating mazes and opening jars, underlining their cognitive flexibility and learning capabilities.
  • Birds, especially crows and parrots, possess advanced tool-use skills and the ability to solve intricate puzzles, reflecting an instinctive problem-solving ability that rivals that of young children.
  • Elephants display profound emotional intelligence, including deep social bonds, mourning behaviors, extraordinary memory, and empathetic interactions, indicating a sophisticated understanding of social dynamics and emotions.

The Intelligence of Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees sit at the top when it comes to brain power in the animal kingdom. Their knack for using tools is unmatched by any other nonhuman species. Researchers have found that Savanna chimpanzees have mastered the use of at least 26 different tools during their hunting expeditions. What’s more fascinating is that some of these tools require a five-step preparation process. This level of tool usage requires not just intelligence but also planning and problem-solving skills that are complex and advanced.

Beyond their impressive tool-using abilities, chimpanzees also showcase signs of deep emotional intelligence. They communicate, show empathy, display compassion, and even respect their elders. These behaviors indicate a level of societal complexity and emotional depth often attributed only to humans.

Crows and dogs are also part of this elite group of intelligent animals. Crows have shown they can recognize human faces and solve intricate puzzles, hinting at a mind as sharp as a seven-year-old child’s. On the other hand, dogs have been extensively studied for their cognitive capabilities. They can learn tricks, understand some elements of English grammar, and remember the names of more than 1,000 toys. This indicates that dogs may relate more closely to humans than to their nonhuman primate cousins in some aspects of intelligence.

Dolphins are another notable mention. They aren’t just playful; they’re also sharp. Dolphins use sticks and leaves as tools, showing their problem-solving prowess. Remarkably, they can recognize themselves in mirrors, a trait that highlights self-awareness, a characteristic of high intelligence.

The intelligence of these animals challenges our understanding of what it means to be smart. Tool use, emotional complexity, problem-solving abilities, and self-recognition are all traits that underline the incredible cognitive capacities of animals like chimpanzees, crows, dogs, and dolphins.

Surprising Cognitive Abilities of Rats

Rats often get a bad rap. They’re seen as pests in many parts of the world. Yet, these small creatures have brain power that might surprise you.

Rats possess a kind of intelligence that’s both intriguing and practical. They’re not just good at navigating mazes for scientists. Rats have shown they can make complex decisions. They use their previous knowledge to solve new problems. This ability reflects a high level of mental agility and adaptability.

Another fascinating aspect is their emotional intelligence. Rats are capable of feeling and expressing empathy. Studies have shown that they will often try to help other rats in distress. They avoid actions that could cause harm to their fellow rats. This shows an understanding of another’s feelings, a trait once thought to be uniquely human.

Rats also exhibit metacognition. This means they can think about their own thinking. They evaluate their knowledge before tackling a problem. Imagine a rat pausing at a crossroads in a maze. It’s essentially pondering its options based on what it knows. This level of self-awareness adds another layer to their cognitive capabilities.

Socially, rats are quite sophisticated. They live in complex societies, communicating through various methods. They bond with other rats, play together, and even groom each other. These behaviors hint at a social intelligence that parallels that of higher mammals.

In terms of learning, rats are stars. They can be trained to perform tasks, respond to their names, and even play fetch. Their ability to learn new things quickly and remember them makes them standout examples of animal intelligence.

Rats’ brains might be small compared to a human’s, but they’re mighty. They navigate challenges with a blend of cunning, empathy, and critical thinking. It’s time to view these creatures in a new light, acknowledging their incredible cognitive abilities.

Problem-Solving Skills in Cephalopods

Cephalopods, like octopuses, cuttlefish, and squids, show off some impressive brain power. They can solve puzzles, navigate mazes, and even open jars to get to food. This isn’t just about muscle; it’s about smarts. Octopuses, for instance, can change their color, texture, and shape. This trickery is not just for hiding. They also mimic other animals, which means they need to know about those animals and how to act like them.

Here’s something to think about: some cephalopods have over 500 million neurons. That’s more than twice as many as a rat, a creature we already think of as smart. With all those neurons, cephalopods are quick learners. They figure out puzzles and adapt to new challenges fast.

But it’s not just about the number of brain cells. These sea creatures show real cleverness. For example, when octopuses open jars to get food, they’re not just following instincts. They’re thinking through the problem and finding a solution. That’s a big deal for an animal. It shows they understand the situation and work out a way to fix it.

Cephalopods also remember what works and what doesn’t. This ability to learn and recall is key to problem-solving. They don’t keep making the same mistakes. Instead, they adjust and try new moves until they succeed.

In short, cephalopods are solving problems in ways that surprise and impress us. They’re not just reacting to the world around them; they’re actively figuring it out. This isn’t just interesting for scientists. It’s a reminder that intelligence comes in many forms, not just the ones we’re used to.

Birds with Advanced Tool-Use Skills

Birds aren’t just pretty creatures that can sing or fly; some of them are pretty smart, especially when it comes to using tools. Crows and parrots are two types of birds that have surprised scientists with their clever use of tools to solve problems.

Crows have been observed using sticks to get ants and termite larvae to eat. This shows they can not only use tools but also select the right tool for the job. In a fascinating experiment, crows figured out a way to get a reward floating on water inside a slender cylinder. They added pebbles to the container to raise the water level high enough to grab the treat. This task was too hard for children under eight but not for these birds. Their ability to solve such puzzles without prior training highlights crows’ instinctive problem-solving skills.

Parrots, too, have shown significant intelligence. A parrot named Griffin participated in experiments at Harvard University. He demonstrated that he could understand the concept of probability by choosing cups that had nuts hidden underneath. Griffin showed a dislike for gambling on a 50/50 chance but was willing to take the risk for a special treat, like a Skittle. This behavior suggests that parrots can make decisions based on desired outcomes and understand the idea of taking calculated risks.

These studies reveal that birds’ brains are more advanced than previously thought. While dogs and cats are known for their smart ways in a home setting, birds like crows and parrots exhibit remarkable problem-solving abilities in controlled experiments. Their clever use of tools and ability to understand complex concepts place them among the smartest animals in the world.

The study of animal intelligence continues to uncover fascinating facts about how creatures think and interact with their environment. Birds, with their advanced tool-use skills, are proving to be at the forefront of this exciting field of research.

Emotional Intelligence in Elephants

Elephants are known for their big size and even bigger brains. They showcase behaviors that reveal high emotional intelligence. It’s not just about how they can remember paths or recognize faces but how they interact with each other and respond to emotions.

They form deep social bonds. Elephants live in groups and rely on each other for survival and companionship. They care for their young together and protect each other from threats. This shows they understand the value of teamwork.

These animals also mourn their dead. When an elephant dies, its companions may touch and investigate the body. They sometimes stay with it for days. This behavior is a clear sign of their capacity to feel loss and sorrow.

Another aspect of their emotional intelligence is memory. Elephants don’t forget easily. They remember water holes over vast distances and even faces of other elephants for years. This incredible memory aids in their survival but also in their social connections.

In addition to their memory, elephants show empathy. They can recognize when another elephant is in trouble and will often try to help. This kind of behavior is a strong indicator of their ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Their structured social groups and complex interactions further display their emotional depth. Elephants communicate using a variety of sounds and gestures. They reassure each other, coordinate group movements, and even play together. This communication is crucial for maintaining their social bonds.

Overall, elephants exhibit a range of behaviors that highlight their emotional intelligence. From mourning their dead to remembering friends and expressing empathy, they show us how emotionally complex and intelligent they are.


Elephants stand out as paragons of emotional intelligence in the animal kingdom. Their ability to form lasting social bonds, coupled with their exceptional memory and complex communication skills, underscores their profound intelligence. These gentle giants not only demonstrate empathy and understanding but also exhibit an unparalleled capacity for teamwork. Through their structured social dynamics and emotional depth, elephants offer a fascinating glimpse into the cognitive capabilities of non-human species, solidifying their status as one of the smartest animals in the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

What capabilities demonstrate an elephant’s emotional intelligence?

Elephants showcase remarkable emotional intelligence through deep social bonding, mourning their deceased, demonstrating empathy, and remembering individuals and locations for years. Their complex social interactions and coordination in groups emphasize their emotional depth.

How do elephants display their memory skills?

Elephants exhibit impressive memory skills by remembering water holes, tracking long migratory routes, and recognizing the faces of fellow elephants even after years of separation. This ability plays a key role in their survival and social dynamics.

Can elephants truly mourn?

Yes, elephants can truly mourn. They show signs of grief when they lose a member of their group by touching the bones of the deceased with their trunks and spending time near their body, indicating mourning behavior.

What is the significance of elephants’ social structures?

The structured social groups of elephants, led by a matriarch, are crucial for their survival. These structures enable them to raise their young, protect each other, and pass down knowledge within the group, underscoring their complex emotional and social intelligence.

How do elephants communicate their emotions?

Elephants communicate their emotions through physical touch, vocalizations, and body language. They use a range of sounds from low-frequency rumbles to trumpet calls for communication over large distances, expressing everything from joy to distress, showcasing their nuanced emotional expression.