Homeschool Web Activity September 2012 Houston Zoo Showing Off Your Smarts Intelligence Many organisms on planet Earth show intelligence Webster’s dictionary defines intelligence as: “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations” Intelligence in Animals There is such diversity in the animal kingdom that it stands to reason different animals show intelligence in different ways This means scientists must use different methods of measuring intelligence based on the organism they are studying Intelligence Tests Scientists look at a variety of “tests” to help them determine the intelligence of an animal These include: Tool usage Problem solving Social groups and cooperation And more! The Smarter You Are, The More… Bored You Get? As odd as that sounds, it is true! The more intelligent an animal is, the more likely they will be in danger of getting bored Here at the Houston Zoo, we have many animals in our care that are very intelligent so we must always work to find things to keep them engaged and their minds sharp Training One of the ways our keepers engage the animals and keep their minds active is through training Through operant conditioning using positive reinforcement, keepers can train different animals to learn a variety of behaviors Start With The Basics Training often starts with “capturing a behavior” Many times, an animal’s first response to a new object presented to them is to sniff it Keepers will present the animal with a target stick; when the animal reaches out to investigate it by giving it a sniff, the instant their nose touches the target, the keeper bridges the behavior and offers a reward Practice Makes Perfect The keepers will work with an animal and repeat this simple behavior over and over Eventually, the animal associates the positive response (food, praise, etc.) with touching their nose to the target and then… Voila! That behavior has been captured! Building Upon… Once the very basic behavior of touching one’s nose to a target is captured, the keepers can start to add other, more advanced, behaviors For instance, if they lower the target out of the animal’s reach so the animal must lay down to touch the target, they can easily capture the behavior of laying down The Sky Is The Limit! Many of our animals are so intelligent, the keepers can get very advanced with their training Elephants, sea lions, and parrots are all examples of animals who really show off their smarts! Humans At The Top Of The Class! Humans are very intelligent creatures as well! We use tools, live in highly dynamic social groups that utilize language, and use problem solving in our every day lives Keep Sharp! Since humans are so intelligent, we also can get bored easily Be sure to always keep your mind sharp by doing puzzles, making up fun games using your imagination, and learning new things! Try It Out! We learned all about how the keepers here at the Houston Zoo use training to keep our animals’ minds sharp Grab some friends and family members and try your hand at training using our web activity instructions and data sheet!