Cosmopoliatn Carnivores Many Minds Podcast featuring Sarah Benson Amram 2
Jun 12, 2024

Cosmopolitan Carnivores with Sarah Benson-Amram (podcast)

How is wildlife adapting to urban environments, and what can that teach us about animal cognition?

By Templeton Staff

Dr. Sarah Benson-Amram is Assistant Professor of Forest and Conservation Sciences and Zoology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). She also directs the Animal Behavior & Cognition Lab at UBC, where her research group focuses on the behavioral and cognitive ecology of urban wildlife. 

For this Many Minds Podcast she discusses what urban wildlife can teach us about animal cognition more generally, and how we might find ways to smooth human-wildlife interactions.

Listen with the below player.

Leading theories of the evolution of intelligence have mostly been tested in primates and birds. What can we learn by looking instead at the Carnivora?

Many Minds podcast host, cognitive scientist, and writer Kensy Cooperrider introduces the episode:

“They tend to move under the cover of darkness. As night descends, they come for your gardens and compost piles, for your trash cans and attic spaces. They are raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. And if you live in urban North America, they are a growing presence. Whether you consider them menacing, cute, fascinating, or all of the above, you have to grant that they are quite a clever crew. After all, they’ve figured out how to adapt to human-dominated spaces. But how have they done this? What traits and talents have allowed them to evolve into this brave new niche? And are they still evolving into it?

Sarah and I talk about her work on that trio I mentioned before: raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. These three species are all members of the mammalian order of carnivora, a clade of animals that Sarah has focused on throughout her career as a behavioral and cognitive ecologist, and one that has been underrepresented in studies of animal cognition. We discuss the traits that have allowed these species — and certain members of these species — to thrive in dynamic, daunting urban spaces. We also talk about the big picture of the evolution of intelligence — and how urban adapter species might shed light on what is known as the cognitive buffer hypothesis. Along the way, we touch on: the neophilia of raccoons and the neophobia of coyotes, puzzle boxes, the Aesop’s fable task, hyenas and elephants, brain size, individual differences, human-wildlife conflict, comparative gastronomy, and the cognitive arms race that might be unfolding in our cities.”

Raccoons, skunks & coyotes are all members of the mammalian order of Carnivora, a clade of animals underrepresented on the study of animal cognition.

Templeton World Charity Foundation's Diverse Intelligences is a multiyear, global effort to understand a world alive with brilliance in many forms. Its mission is to promote open-minded, forward-looking inquiry in animal, human, and machine intelligences. We collaborate with leading experts and emerging scholars from around the globe, developing high-caliber projects that advance our comprehension of the constellation of intelligences.

Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI), made possible through a grant from TWCF to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The Many Minds podcast is hosted and produced by Kensy Cooperrider, with help from Assistant Producer Urte Laukaityte. Creative support is provided by DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster. Artwork featured as the podcast badge is by Ben Oldroyd.