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Posts Tagged ‘ethology’

Tigers are smarter than lions. Encephalization quotients say so!

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One should never use encephalization quotients as substitutes for intelligence tests. Frogs have bigger brains in relation to their body sizes than dogs do. Are frogs smarter than dogs? Shrews have really big brains in proportion to their body sizes–much more so than humans. In some shrew species, 10 percent of their body weight is their brain. Are you going to tell me that shrews are more intelligent than people?

What Salmoni says about lions could be something more related to the peculiarities of lion behavior. Lions are social cats, and they might be responding to the approval of their human trainers more than a tiger would. If a tiger decides to kill, it may not be able to be stopped with corrections. It doesn’t care as much what people or other cats think of it. Male lions also attack for a different reason that tigers do. If a male lion is kept with lionesses, he become very protective of them. It seems to me more likely tigers attack almost entirely out of predatory response.

And intelligence has nothing to do with whether a species is more easily domesticated than another. We have domesticated all sorts of different animals with different types of intelligence. Pigs and dogs are fairly intelligent animals. The fact that male lions get so aggressive when in the presence of females is probably why they will never be domesticated.  It is the pre-existing natural behavior of the species– not intelligence– that determines whether a species can be domesticated.

I laughed a bit when the tame lion was set on the bull. A tame lion has no practice in hunting. How on earth would it know how to kill a bull? Further, it’s a male lion. Male lions are not meant for hunting, unless the pride is going after African buffalo, which is a huge, aggressive animal that can give a hunting party made up of mostly lionesses a run for their money. A big male lion or two can provide the brawn for bringing down this fellest of African horned herbivores.

I don’t know who started this meme on Youtube of which animal will kill which animal in a fight or which animal is the most intelligent. It’s really funny. It is like teenage boys are yearning ofr an animal death match. Their inchoate desires to see bloodsport are transferred into these puerile exploits that often use misunderstandings, pseudo-science, and half-baked anecdotal evidence to back up their claims.

I have no idea which animal is more intelligent. I am not sure that this question is all that relevant to understanding why tigers and lions behave as they do. I doubt that lions are very good at stalking wolves and brown bears in Russian forests as Amur tigers do. I doubt that tigers are very good at cooperative hunting of any sort.

Intelligence in animals is alway controversial– and always nebulous. Intelligence in our own species is similarly difficult to quantify or qualify.  We don’t have a good understanding of those characteristics in our own species, so what makes us think we can divine them between two species of big cat that happened to be separated by millions of years of evolution and that evolved to live very different lives in the wild?

Tigers are intelligent to be tigers. Lions are intelligent to be lions. I think that is all we can say, if we are to say anything from a scientific perspective.

I should also correct a few things in this video:

In general, social predators are more intelligent than solitary ones.  This was the finding of a recent study that compared the evolution of brain sizes across different species through their ancestral forms. Dogs have evolved larger brains from their ancestors than cats have. That is because dogs are social.

And I don’t know how anyone can say that lions live in less complex environments than tigers do. Lions were once quite widespread through Africa, Asia, and even parts of Europe. They are adapted to complex environments. And even with that understanding, how can someone seriously make the claim that life on the African savannas is not complex?  Parts of the Serengeti are known for their startling biodiversity, and lions are part and parcel of it.

There are so many things wrong with these sorts of videos. I don’t know why I watch them.

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Eurasian badgers are not solitary.

Eurasian badgers are not solitary.

When I reared a [European or Eurasian] badger I never could forbid it to do anything. If I scolded it when it opened a cupboard and pulled out my linen, and if I gave it a smack on the nose it attacked me.  It would not subordinate itself.  A dog, on the other hand, quickly learns to obey.

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Love and Hate, p. 89.

Before Eibl-Eibesfeldt discusses the badger, he claims that its recalcitrance is the result of its solitary nature. The dog learns to obey because it is a social animal.

He would have been correct if the subject badger had been of the North American species. It really is a solitary species, and it is even more aggressive than its Eurasia counterpart when cornered.

However, the European badger is a social animal. Indeed, it lives in social groups that center around a mated pair– just like we would expect to see in wolves. And just like wolves, generally only this mated pair reproduce.

I don’t know why Eibl-Eibesfeldt thought that these animals are solitary.

But it wouldn’t be the first time this mistake has been made.

Many people believe, with almost theological fervor, that European rabbits are solitary, and thus, the best way to keep domestic rabbits, which are derived from European rabbits, is in separate cages. This is nonsense.

European rabbits are colony breeders. Dominant buck rabbits maintain harems, while subordinate males form monogamous relationships. The bucks actually help care for the young. This behavior is very different from cottontail rabbits, which maintain small territories, and are indeed relatively solitary.

So why did Eibl-Eibesfeldt have such a hard time training his badger?

Well, I’ll answer that by asking another question: Why do people have a hard time training wild animals, even those that are social?

The best example I can think of is the wolf. Wolves are very hard to train.

Now, you’d think that their trainability would be quite high, because we know that domestic dogs are very easy to train. Surely dogs got their trainability from their wild ancestors, right?

Well, this assumption is simply wrong. Wolves are almost impossible to house train, and while they can learn behaviors, they don’t seem to ever develop the almost scary reliability one sees in some of the easily regimented breeds of domestic dog.

We now believe that the domestic dog got its trainability through domestication. Some scientists like Vilmos Csanyi actually argue that dogs have developed an ability to learn rules,  a skill that no other species has been able to match.

Now, I won’t go that far, but I will say that much of the research on domestic dogs shows that they have developed some sort of cognitive shortcuts that allow them to read humans. It’s also possible that we have also developed complementary cognitive short-cuts that also allow us to read them. Whatever it is, domestic dogs have a leg-up (no pun intended) in learning how to fit into human society.

And that’s why Eibl-Eibesfeldt’s badger had a hard time learning the rules. It wasn’t because the badger was solitary. It was because the badger’s brain hasn’t evolved to fit with human society.

This story about the badger is a very good example of an ethologist getting something wrong about the natural behavior of a species and then using those results to generalize even larger errors.

Thus, it’s not the solitary nature that makes the badger hard to handle. It is the fact that it is a wild animal that makes it hard to handle.

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