While hyenas have often been depicted as slobbering, dim-witted fools in animated movies, a new study shows that the African carnivores are adept at problem-solving, and can even count. This makes scientists believe that Hyaenidae could have comparable intelligence levels to some primates.
The scientists published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Hyaenidae are highly social animals, competing with each other and other packs that invade their territories. They will only confront intruders if they judge that by their calls, they have the advantage in numbers.
The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) used trial and error to work out how to open a steel box puzzle that contained food. Sarah Benson-Amram, a zoologist at the University of St. Andrews, states that the animals are innovative and can solve technical problems. This can include solving social problems, as demonstrated by C. crocuta, showcasing cognitive abilities that seem to be on par with some primates.
In the study, Benson-Amram showed that C. crocuta experimented with different strategies to open a steel box, which they had never encountered before. Techniques used included biting, flipping it over, digging underneath and pushing it around. The animals that used diverse techniques were more successful and were able to open other boxes more quickly.
Animals like crows, pigeons, octopi, dogs and even sheep can solve problems. Even humans rely on trial-and-error when encountering a new challenge. Finally, some of the animals, after having gotten used to the challenge, were able to open the box in a matter of seconds. Some animals were more creative than others.
Reference: “Innovative problem solving by wild spotted hyenas” by Sarah Benson-Amram and Kay E. Holekamp, 8 August 2012, Proceedings of the Royal Society B.