Date of Award

Summer 8-9-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Natalia Borrego

Second Advisor

Martin Chodorow

Academic Program Adviser

Diana Reiss


Intelligence may have evolved to help animals problem-solve in their physical and/or social environments, which enables them to cope with changes in their environments. Humans can reduce wildlife conflict by understanding how species that face harsh environments assess a situation and alter their behavior. Tests for cognitive behavior aim to formulate clear behavioral criteria for inferring an animal’s mental processes. We designed a custom multi-access puzzle box (MAB) to present a simple and effective behavioral test for exploring innovation in two species, African lions (Panthera leo) and snow leopards (Panthera uncia). Despite being vastly underrepresented in cognitive studies, the order Carnivora, and felids in particular, make an excellent group for studying, species’ abilities to problem solve and innovate. We measured innovation, repeated innovation, persistence, success, contact latency, learning and the exploration diversity of individuals interacting with the MAB. Of the 6 African lions, 5 were able to solve at least one door to the box and of the 9 snow leopards, only 4 were able to solve at least one door. To date, this is the first examination of multi-task problem solving in African lions and the first experimental test of cognition in snow leopards. As expected, persistence significantly predicted success on trials in both species, but significant between subject effects were only found in snow leopards. Our results suggest that species and individuals vary in their problem-solving approaches. Carnivores are particularly susceptible to environmental challenges of human-wildlife conflict, and by understanding their abilities to problem-solve and innovate, we can understand and mitigate conservation issues.



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