Inside No 9 and the Animal Mind

Inside no 9 was, as expected, comic genius with an unexpected and morbid denouement. Katharine Parkinson’s expression as her fiance’s ex-girlfriend said he sometimes still texted her was exquisitely funny. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so much at a facial expression before. Kudos, always been a big fan of hers.

To the repeat of Chris Packham’s show, which concentrated on animal intelligence, mainly in birds. There was the New Caledonia crow, which had evolved in isolation on an island 1,000 miles East of Australia (far, far away land) and was able to complete eight separate tasks in order to release a tasty nut from a puzzle. Once completed, the proud bird, true to his name, crowed.

Back in England we had Bran, a rather characterful raven who thought his trainer was his life partner. Awww. “What a stunner!” Chris exclaimed on meeting Bran. Like all stunners though, he was a bit of a diva, immediately attacking the camera (maybe they weren’t catching his best angle?) and then picking (pecking) his trainer/life partner’s pocket while he talked to Chris. Subtle undermining of his life partner eh? He’s not the first to do that. His trainer said he needed a lot of attention as he was so smart. Chris had devised a way to test this with a puzzle to get a ball out of two perspex boxes. With the irrational and impervious pride of a parent, Chris claimed that poodles were the smartest dog breed and tested his puzzle on Bran, his poodles Itchy and Scratchy and a two year old child. Bran was in there like a shot to get the ball out, bam. Showing his ego to be more than justified. Itchy and Scratchy however, despite Chris’s hothousing, proved themselves to be fuzzy faced idiots, much to his chagrin, and the baby soon lost interest.

Next Rockabilly Attenborough was off to meet a troupe of goffin cockatoos who were hilariously curious. One, Olympia, worked out how to undo his watch. A very cute mugger. Chris explained that birds of the corvid family, such as parrots and crows, are so smart as their brains are almost double the size you’d expect for an animal of that size. They were proportionally huge, like ours.

Back to the New Caledonia crows, who make tools to get food. The techniques to make them vary around the island, something we might term culture or tradition. They do something called “ratcheting” – thought to be an exclusively human behaviour until these birds were studied – which is improving tools from generation to generation. Not even chimps do this. So Planet of the Apes seems less likely now, more like Planet of the Crows. You have been warned.

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