What differentiates humans from other species? Clearly, the opposable thumb is an important characteristic. Could you see a cave man trying to throw a spear without a thumb? How far do you think our brains would have been able to take us without the ability to create and use tools? OK, maybe we would have found a way, but it might have been very limiting. Are there other intelligent creatures all around us that merely lack an opposable thumb? What about dolphins?
Apes have a huge advantage over other creatures since they do have the opposable thumb, but we don’t believe they have all our complex reasoning skills. They do appear, however, to have most if not all of our emotions and social skills. They experience love, anger, compassion, and fear. They are leaders, followers, and family-oriented (at least the females are). If they could just develop language skills, they might even be able to build an advanced society to compete with us. So, what really is the difference between an ape and a mentally impaired, mute human? Do apes also have more social skills than a severely autistic person?
People often claim that the ability to use tools and pass on knowledge distinguish humans from animals. But what they don’t tell you is that some animals can also do both. They just don’t have the intellectual or physical capacity to manufacture tools.
For years, chimpanzees and orangutans have been known to use primitive tools such as rocks and sticks to perform specific tasks. While they are only able to use basic objects such as rocks for simple tasks such as crushing shells, it shows that they understand the benefits of using objects to help with specific tasks. They are also able to teach their young how to use such tools. Now, gorillas have been added to the list as they have been observed using sticks to test water depth and using branches as a makeshift bridge.
In June 2005, scientists also identified the use of tools by dolphins. Some female dolphins use marine sponges to help forage for food and they pass this knowledge on to their female offspring, which spend a lot of time with their mothers. The dolphins wear the conical-shaped sponges on their nose while foraging along the seabed. While nobody yet knows how this helps them to feed, it seems that they have a different diet than other dolphins that do not use the sponges. Dolphins are now the first non-primates known to be able to use tools and pass on the learned behavior to their offspring.
Chimps are also known to be able to participate in more complex behavior. In experiments, for example, they are able to learn the benefits of pulling or pushing levers in order to feed themselves or others. In some experiments, they show an ability to work as a team by pulling a lever that can only be used to feed another chimp. Why do they do this? Because they understand that the other chimp can also pull a lever that will feed them. When they mutually feed each other, they are happy to work together to their mutual benefit. But if one chimp fails to reciprocate, then the other shows signs of anger and resentment and will refuse to cooperate as well even after the other animal later decides to cooperate. See the book: Dogs Never Lie About Love. Cats and dogs, raccoons, bears and other animals are also known to be able to turn doorknobs to open doors, which shows the ability to learn from watching humans. Clearly, some animals are intelligent and have a good ability to learn and remember people, places, and the purpose or use of objects.