Giraffe kissing

A kiss goodbye can mean a lot. Especially when you get it from someone you’ve cared for every day.

What makes this case different is that it involves a giraffe and its former zookeeper. The kiss has, no doubt, gone viral on the internet, with people all over the world being touched by the moment the two shared. What is on everyone’s mind now is, did the animal recognize the man? If the affection shown by it was real, it can lead researchers to seriously reconsider the intelligence levels of animals.

The giraffe lived in the Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam, Netherlands, where the zookeeper, Mario Eijs worked odd jobs for 25 years. He had dutifully cleaned the giraffes’ cages for all that time. Eijs, who has a mental disability, had developed a tumor in his brain which resulted in great difficulty in walking or speaking. However, his final wish was to pay a visit to his co-workers, and the animals he cared for and loved.

He was taken to the zoo in an ambulance by members of the Ambulance Wish Foundation, an organization that enables terminal patients to visit a place that brings back fond memories or a go to a place that they have never seen before. When Eijs was brought into the giraffes’ interior enclosure on a stretcher, they initially became curious.

Then, according to witnesses, one giraffe leaned over an opening in the enclosure and nuzzled Eijs, before licking his nose. Watching that ‘last greeting’ gave zoo workers and all others present at the scene, an emotional memory.

According to Kees Veldboer, the head of the Ambulance Wish Foundation, the giraffe could definitely be said to have recognized his keeper, from his subsequent actions.Veldboer also said that the animal could also somehow have known of Mario’s failing health. But the question remains: was the goodbye kiss a real one, or something purely coincidental? If the answer is the former option, then is this further evidence that animals could possibly be more intelligent than we have always assumed?

Though giraffes have not been extensively known for their intelligence, others animals have shown this to a good extent. Chimpanzees, for example, are quite smart, and have been experimented on. Their ability to perform certain basic activities has led researchers to make an estimate on how smart these animals are. Research on them has also shown that they have the ability to learn from their experiences in the past, and plan accordingly in the future for the same. This cognitive process was only thought to occur in the human brain.

Many researchers have asserted the failure of research to identify and appreciate the true intelligence of animals. In some experiments performed in the confines of a laboratory, chimpanzees have been seen demonstrating abilities like empathy and awareness of the self. The other, more basic laboratory experiments involved recognizing the numbers 1 through 9, and placing them in ascending order when they were randomly placed before them. They were even able to do this when some of the numbers were missing.

Besides chimps, dolphins too have been researched as one of the most intelligent living beings, besides humans. In the course of research, scientists have seen them learning tips for survival from their parent, and passing it on to their offspring. Other than that, they use a series of clicks and whistles to communicate with one another in a complex language.

Therefore, the news about the emotion-displaying giraffe should come as little surprise. Animals may, indeed, be smarter than we think they are!