A giraffe’s goodbye kiss of his former keeper has gone viral over the internet. People are touched by the action of the animal saying goodbye to a dying man who cleaned his cage for a quarter century at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands. Did the giraffe really recognize the man, and was the affection real? The goodbye kiss from the giraffe raises the question of “How intelligent are animals anyway?”
The kiss came as a result of a man’s dying wish. The mentally-challenged former maintenance worker, known only as “Mario,” had cleaned the giraffe’s cages for a quarter century. He was taken to the zoo via ambulance by members of the Ambulance Wish Foundation, an organization that gives terminal patients a chance to see a site that brings back fond memories or a site they have never before witnessed. For Mario, it was a last trip to see his beloved giraffes. As Mario was carried into the enclosure on a stretcher, witnesses say one of the giraffes leaned through an opening to plant him with a kiss. Kees Veldboer, Foundation head told the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that the animal definitely recognized Mario and that his health was failing. Was the kiss real, or was the event purely coincidental? Is it further evidence that animals may be smarter than we think?
While giraffes aren’t necessarily known for their intellect, chimpanzees are, and stories of their intelligence abound. Take Santino, a resident of the Furuvik Zoo in Sweden. His escapades throwing rocks at visitors have made him a celebrity of sorts. It seems Santino learned to hide his rocks out of sight from visitors to avoid suspicion. Just when onlookers were convinced of his innocence, he would grab from his stash and pelt them with rocks. Researchers say Santino’s actions showed he has learned from past experiences and can plan for the future, something until now thought confined to human intelligence. Santino is proving that an ability for “mental time travel” might also be within the providence of animal brains as well.
Many researchers contend that humans have failed to recognize the true intelligence of the animals that share their planet. They insist that the goodbye kiss from the giraffe to his former keeper raises the question of “how intelligent are animals?”
In some laboratory experiments, chimpanzees have demonstrated qualities such as empathy and self-awareness; more traits once thought only humans possessed. In another experiment chimps were taught to recognize numbers from one to nine an ascending order. They could place them in proper order even when the numbers were presented to them out of order. Even when some some numerals were missing, they retained the ability to sort the remaining number in the proper seqence.
Dolphins have long been thought to be among the most intelligent of creatures. Scientists point to a female dolphin in Australia as an example. The animal uses a sponge held on her snout to protect it while she forages for food on the seafloor. She apparently learned that trick from her mother and will pass it on to her daughter. Other studies show dolphins use whistles and clicks to communicate with each other in what they term an amazingly complex language.
As they gather data on animal behavior, researchers seem more and more surprised by animal intellect. They agree that the giraffe goodbye kiss at the Rotterdam Zoo certainly raises the question of “how intelligent are animals?”
Commentary by B. David Warner