To look an elephant in the face is to gaze upon genius. Here is a creature who experiences emotional intimacy with friends and family, who seems to understand death and treats its dead in a way that borders on ceremonial. Here is an animal who can recognize itself in the mirror, fashion twigs into tools, formulate and implement plans, and remember someone’s face for decades. An animal that has exquisite ways of sensing the world we can never experience firsthand and a complex language we will probably never decipher. An animal whose cleverness parallels our own, yet is in many ways unique. As a species, we have long valued our extraordinary mental powers, obsessively comparing our intelligence to the braininess of all other beasts. We insist on continually updating a grand hierarchy of cleverness. The more one learns about exceptionally smart and sensitive animals like the elephant, however, the less useful such rankings become. It suddenly seems silly to think of intelligence as a pyramid. Yes, some creatures have bigger brains and some are capable of impressive mental feats others will never achieve. But what is far more impressive—what is far more fascinating—is the glorious diversity of intelligence on our planet. There are so many different ways to be smart. Every species alive today is exactly as smart as its survival required. When we look into the eyes of the elephant, we should recognize nothing less than an intellectual equal.”

Searching for the Elephants Genius