This Baboon Operated a Railway and Never Made Mistakes
Once upon a time, James Wide used to work for the Cape Town-Port Elizabeth Railway and jumped from car to car to get the job done faster, even when the trains were moving. He did it so often that he even got the nickname “Jumper.”
One day, James lost both legs in a terrible train accident because of that habit. He was devastated, but he didn’t give up: he got new legs out of wooden pegs and took a job at a railway station. He got to work with a wooden trolley he constructed himself, and it wasn’t easy for him. Then, he found a solution, a loyal friend, and a helper, all in one package. “Jumper” met Jack, the baboon, leading an ox wagon at the market. James was so impressed by the baboon’s skills he knew he would be a great help in his work. He convinced the owner to sell Jack to him and started training his new assistant immediately. Jack quickly learned to help “Jumper” around the house and to push his trolley to work.
Then, his new owner decided to take it one step further and teach the smart baboon to help him at work, as well. His job was to make sure the trains were on schedule and went down the assigned tracks. An approaching train would notify him with a certain number of whistles, and James’s task would be to listen carefully and change the track by pulling the correct lever. Jack turned out to be a good student. First, he learned to pull the right lever when his owner would show him the number with his fingers. Then, he learned to recognize the pattern of whistles and do the job himself. He also helped with the station’s garden. James could completely rely on his smart assistant and just relax while Jack was on duty.
They were working as a great team until one day, a posh passenger traveling through the station noticed a baboon was in charge of levers. After a complaint, the railway officials sent a manager to the station to fire James as he had never informed his bosses his assistant was not human. Once the inspection arrived, James managed to convince them to give the baboon a chance to show his talents and then make the final decision. The managers agreed to it and were so impressed they officially hired Jack to work for the railway and even gave him a salary of 20 cents. It was all happening in the 1880s, so the pay wasn’t that bad.
Jack worked for 9 years without making a single mistake until he passed away. He became a real celebrity and had many fans among passengers and the locals. He loved his master a lot and would make people go “Awwwwww” as he embraced James around the neck with his arms.
Beautiful Jim Key was another super-intelligent animal that went down in history. His owner, William Key, loved all animals, but especially horses. He became a self-taught veterinarian and trainer and decided to take up horse racing. He bought an Arabian mare named Lauretta, which used to be a famous circus horse. Lauretta soon gave birth to a foal, and William was hoping it would go down in history as a powerful racing horse. The foal didn’t live up to his expectations as it was frail, weak, and could barely walk. Jim spent a lot of time with William and even slept inside the house by the fireplace. As he was growing up, the horse started picking up tricks, mostly from the family dog. He would pick up sticks, roll over, and sit to get treats. William’s wife Lucinda was the first to discover Jim had other talents, as well. He learned to answer yes or no questions. Jim would nod his head up and down when someone asked: “Would you like a piece of apple?” He would shake his head from side to side when someone would offer him to go outside in rainy weather.
William started training Jim and helped him master the alphabet, spell small words, and count. He could also tell time, use a cash register, dial phone numbers, sort mail, and even faint on command. The owner decided to start a show with Jim as the main star, and it was an instant success. Some people didn’t believe it was real, but they were curious to see it, anyway. William and Jim Key became famous across the country. Jim’s mug was on buttons and postcards. They had their final show in 1906, but the important lesson they taught still lives on.
You can teach animals a lot if you treat them with kindness, not cruelty. A border collie in the U.S. named Chaser knew the names of over a thousand of her toys. Chaser broke the record held by another dog called Rico, who scored 200 words. Chaser was a Birthday gift for a Psychology professor, who started training her when she was 8 weeks old. It was a research project for her owner. Chaser learned to identify 50 toys with their names when she was 5 months old. The owners gave each toy a name and wrote it with a marker not to forget it themselves. They would practice four to five hours per day. As the training continued for several years, Chaser ended up with the largest tested memory of any non-human animal. She also knew her toys by categories and could perform specific commands. She would touch a certain ball with her paw or fetch the particular frisbee her owners wanted to. Chaser did it without any treats as a reward, she purely enjoyed the process.
Elephants are known to be super smart animals with huge brains and a great memory, capable of showing empathy. Koshik is a male Indian elephant who was born in 1990 and lives at a zoo in South Korea. He became famous when someone filmed him speaking. Well, in fact, he imitates words just like parrots do, but it’s not something you expect from an elephant. Koshik can pronounce the Korean words for “yes,” “no,” “sit,” “lie down,” and four other words. He puts his trunk inside his mouth and shakes it while exhaling to change the tone and pitch of the sounds he produces. If you can whistle with your fingers in the mouth — it’s a lot like that. Researchers don’t know if Koshik actually understands the meanings of any of the words he knows. And they have a theory he had to learn to speak like this because he was separated from other elephants when he was 5 and had to cope with loneliness somehow.
Koko the Gorilla became an international star as she mastered sign language. She knew over 1,000 signs and was able to understand 2,000 words in English. She made it to the cover of the National Geographic magazine twice. First, with a selfie she took in the mirror, which was a pretty new genre in 1978. For the second time, she was featured in a story about her and her pet kitten. Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo in 1971. A researcher started working with her when Koko was one year old. Working with her helped scientists conclude that great apes have language skills similar to human offspring. Koko also showed emotions similar to human ones. She had a sense of humor and a certain level of mischievousness. Once, Koko didn’t like an interviewer, so she called her a “toilet” using sign language.
Octopi are master escape artists. They can pop lids off jars, compress their bodies and climb out of tiny holes. Otto the Octopus from Germany went further than that and learned to short-circuit the entire electrical system at the aquarium. The employees couldn’t understand what was going on, so they decided to stay over at night. Otto sprayed water at the 2,000-watt lights above his tank, and the entire electrical system would burn. It looked like he was just bored in the winter months when the aquarium was closed. He was also seen juggling the hermit crabs in his tank and throwing stones against the glass, trying to damage it. Smart octopus! Hang in there Otto!