By Zach Taylor, University Relations Student Writer

While chimpanzees and dolphins are regularly considered the animal kingdom’s most intelligent creatures, crows may have something to say about that—literally.

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Left to right: David McPherson, Ben Evans, Carolina Jordan, Michael Thelen

Over history, crows have been noted for their use of language (which can feature regional dialects), tools, and problem solving techniques, as well as their adaptation, planning, memory, and facial recognition abilities.

The Chattanooga Zoo has three American crows on site due to injuries or imprinting (an associative learning and lifelong connection made by newborn animals on the first living thing they see; while usually the mother, in captivity the imprinted is often times a trainer). One crow, General Lee, actually mimics and converses with visitors to the zoo.

Crows enjoy a challenge, so UTC engineering students looked to design an enrichment activity for the enclosure to provide them with some entertainment.

According to chemical and mechanical engineering major Michael Thelen, the main objective of the project is to provide the crows with an outlet for their intelligence while providing a much appreciated service to the Chattanooga Zoo.

“I really wanted to work with the Chattanooga Zoo. I have loved the zoo since I was a kid and I wanted to do something special for them,” said Thelan.

The group of students, which includes Thelen, David McPherson, Ben Evans, Carolina Jordan, and Gustavo Burke, created a feeding puzzle for the Chattanooga crows. For them, the main problem was making sure the puzzle was difficult enough and not too easy to complete.

By pulling tabs at the top of the device, food is then dropped into a maze, which the crow must rotate around in order to reach it.

“This project allows crows at the zoo to participate in some mentally stimulating activity. Those in captivity often get bored because they don’t have as many challenges as they do in the wild, so we decided to give them something to entertain themselves with,” said Thelen.

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