IN MY YOUTH I met an amateur zoölogist who was studying the relative intelligence of various species of mammals, excluding men. Obviously, carnivores are more intelligent than herbivores, and he thus far had been able to observe only Felidae and Canidae.
For him, intelligence was not the ability and willingness to be taught tricks, at which dogs obviously excel, but the exercise of judgement in situations involving the animal’s survival.
From an eminence he had watched with binoculars a pair of coyotes as they dealt with a pack of dogs. Hotly pursued, they reached a thicket in which one hid while the other led off the enthusiastically yelping pack, and led them over a widely circular course that resembled the lower part of the numeral 8, returning at length to the thicket, where the mate, who had rested in the meantime, took over and led the dogs over a course corresponding to the upper part of the 8 to repeat the manoeuvre. Before long, the dogs were sprawled out on the ground, panting desperately in utter exhaustion, and the two coyotes trotted away to attend to their own business.
He had recorded the results of an experiment on a short film, taken with a telephoto lens from a blind. A cage of steel mesh, large enough to contain a small pony, was placed in the open. It had a guillotine door that was held open by catch connected with a treadle on which was placed a generous hunk of fresh meat. An animal that tried to take the meat would spring the catch on the door and be securely trapped in the cage.
A coyote, attracted by the aroma of the meat, approached the cage and halted some ten or twelve feet from it, tensely alert as he watched the cage for several minutes. When it did not move, the coyote sank down on his haunches and continued to study the unfamiliar object. At last he rose, walked to the cage, sniffed at the steel mesh, and then trotted disdainfully away.
The gentleman thought that he had proved that coyotes are more intelligent than dogs, wolves, and other Canidae. Perhaps he had. What he certainly proved is that coyotes are more intelligent than Americans.
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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, October 1989