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The National Zoo is involved with cognitive research on great apes, giant pandas, sloth bears, other ursids, as well as variety of other species.

The cognitive research conducted at the National Zoo occupies a unique niche within the Smithsonian Institution as well as within the broader museum and zoological communities. more

Major Projects

Elephant Cognition

Our youngest male elephant, Kandula, is the subject of an exciting cognition study. Elephants are known to have the ability to understand relationships and solve problems based on that knowledge, a trait known as “insight,” is so impressive that  researchers have been forced to rethink common assumptions regarding elephant intelligence altogether. Elephants have always been considered quite smart, but they’ve never before shown this ability to researchers in a quantifiable way. icon linkRead about the study

Primate Cognition

A ground-breaking exhibit tackling the complex field of animal cognition, icon linkThink Tank challenges us to ponder how primates and other animals process the world around them.

Several different cognitive research projects are occurring with the Zoo’s great apes which can be seen in one of the daily research demonstrations at 1:30 p.m. Visitors may learn about metacognition, orangutan memory, or how apes learn to find and modify tools. The cognition research field with great apes is always changing, and Think Tank is the place to learn more about it.

How do giant pandas find their food?

That's one question that Lorie Tarou, Research Assistant for Giant Panda Behavior Studies, is interested in trying to answer. It may sound simple, but because of the pandas' unique categorization as an herbivorous carnivore, the usual assumptions about foraging are impossible to make. Herbivores can often return to certain spots to find food sources, and have adapted with good spatial orientation and memory for foraging. Find out more about how the cognitive abilities of the giant panda are being investigated. icon linkForaging Study

Sloth Bears

Coming Soon: The foraging study is being replicated with sloth bears this spring.