Another study shows us that pigs are smart. Please respect them.

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One of four playing a computer game

Pigs can play computer games. A study tested the ability of four pigs: Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory. They each had their own personalities. They were taught to play a basic computer game. It is similar to the game called ‘Pong’.

One of four playing a computer game

One of four playing a computer game. Image Credit: Eston Martz / Pennsylvania State University

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They were trained on apparatus normally used to train monkeys writes The Times science editor, Tom Whipple. Their task? To direct a cursor with a joystick. They had to use their snouts to do this which put them at a disadvantage over monkeys as the screen was harder to see.

The study was designed to test if pigs can connect the joystick and the movement of the cursor which is ‘poised in time and space’. For pig this was an unnatural behavior.

Each of the four had varying success rates in the task but they all mastered the task. Ivory was the star pupil. “He was the pig you could count on to get any task done quickly” said Dr Candace Croney from Purdue University in Indiana, USA. The experiments changed her view of pigs. She had a negative viewpoint thinking of them as “dumb and dirty animals”.

They found that the best way to motivate the pigs was through belly scratches. They love them. “One of the biggest motivators were belly scratches. If they were frustrated we would give them a break and they would flop over and we would scratch them. Then they would go back to the task”.

Conclusion? To improve the welfare of pigs we need to consider their intellectual abilities. There needs to be a recognition of their intellect and it should be accomodated. And please respect the pig.

Three of the pigs were rehomed after the study while Omelette died. Hamlet spent the rest of his life on a farm. Croney visited him. He recognised her and came running over for a belly scratch!

Other smart animals: crows, dolphins and chimpanzees. The crow is legendary for its intellect. Dolphins too. Dolphins have been trained to clear rubbish from a pool. A chimp at a Swedish zoo stacked rocks up at night so he could throw them at visitors during the day.

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