I’ve included more background below, but the TL;DR is that you’re a lone immortal who’s decided to breed some species of animal to a human-level intelligence (over the course of hundreds of thousands or millions of years). Which animal do you start with?

Qualities that make an animal a good choice:

  • Should be found in Northern California (for plot reasons). Wild dogs would probably have survived humanity disappearing, but any great apes in zoos or labs will have died. If absolutely necessary, you can loosen this requirement, but you will have to explain how you transport a breeding population to Northern California on your own, and I would much prefer to stay close to the action.
  • Easy to control the mating habits of, so that you can select good traits.
  • Easy to keep fed.
  • Minimal oversight required. You’re only one person, and you’re probably going to need to keep a population of at least a few thousand
  • Fairly smart starting point. It’s probably going to be easier to breed a horse to a human level of intelligence than a cockroach.

Feel free to add to or challenge some of these qualities if you believe there’s a compelling reason. The primary metric is the feasibility of breeding it to a human level of intelligence in as short a time as possible.

Edit: my definition of "intelligence" is capable of building a huge number of supercomputers and programming them.

It’s been nearly a year since all the humans on the planet mysteriously disappeared, leaving you alone in a decaying landscape. You are the only human left on earth, and you are immortal. There are a handful of tantalising clues scattered about labs in the San Francisco Bay Area. What few you can decipher point toward a massive puzzle too big to tackle on your own. You need other minds working on the problem, and the only way to get them is to make them: with biology. Knowing full well that it might take millions of years, you set out to selectively breed a new species to intelligence.

You don’t need to eat or drink, although you do feel hungry and thirsty. You do need to sleep for at least a few hours each night. Psychologically you’re fine, and even if you’re a bit lonely, you’re not going to go insane. Your memories do fade, but not past the point of a memory from five years ago or so. You can be wounded, but your wounds heal almost instantly. If a limb is severed, it dissolves and re-forms. No diseases can affect you, and physically you’re a 25 year old in peak health. You’re smart and well educated, but you aren’t a true genius. Even if you want to, you cannot die.

Inspired by this fantastic answer: https://worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/15540/13378. There are a few other questions that ask about breeding animals to intelligence, but they are not framed in terms of the individual, nor do they ask about best choice of creature.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Koftheifens. Is it possible for you to clarify what you mean by 'intelligent'? Specifically, what are you planning to do with these creatures? Are you interested in engaging conversation, just watching them develop, using them as a slave race? Ultimately, your end goal matters because intelligence is not the same as technological development, language skills, etc. You describe 'tantalising clues' and other minds working on the problem, but if you're after researchers an opposable thumb may be every bit as important as intelligence, as would language skills. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II May 8 '19 at 5:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Xenophanes said: "Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw, And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods. Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape. Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own". I am not sure an intelligent non human species would be of any help to interpret clues left by humans. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica May 8 '19 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ I gather you want to figure out why humans disappeared and that the clue might be hidden in computers, or something, and you want to decrypt that or something? But... why would you want to breed intelligent animals instead of spending the same million years just trying to build a computer yourself? I know it is a monumental task, but your breed to intelligence sounds even harder. $\endgroup$ – Zizy Archer May 8 '19 at 12:02
  • $\begingroup$ Would it not make sense to relocate to someplace that already has monkeys (Africa) and take it from there? Being immortal makes it easier to cross the ocean. :) $\endgroup$ – Vilx- May 8 '19 at 17:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ There's a high likelihood that your clues will have degraded due to natural processes before you get done breeding intelligence into some species. $\endgroup$ – boxcartenant May 8 '19 at 23:50

16 Answers 16



The prime thing for intelligence is the ability to manipulate objects. Dolphins might have large brains but they can't really develop complex tools easily.

Raccoons are highly adaptable, intelligent and have excellent motor skills. Over time they could easily develop greater intelligence especially if bred for the right traits

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • 32
    $\begingroup$ It's important to note that urban raccoons are smarter than rural raccoons as urban residents have to solve the puzzles set by humans to survive. Like how to open that locked bin and how to cross a road without dying. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 8 '19 at 7:47
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @JackAidley Not really, appendages evolve very slowly, and mostly by accident because if you have no thumbs, there is no A/B separation between two groups that have no thumbs to encourage the evolution of better thumbs. But all animals have some intelligence; so, by picking the smartest in each generation it is easy to guide. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 8 '19 at 14:27
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki: Opposable thumbs have evolved independently multiple times, more if you include pseudo-thumbs like those of the panda, whereas human level intelligence has evolved once. That suggests to me that the one is harder than the other; on the the other hand human level intelligence only ever evolved in animals with opposable thumbs so... who knows? $\endgroup$ – Jack Aidley May 8 '19 at 15:42
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Raccoons are easy care as they are omnivores. They are already reasonably intelligent. They live in North America. They have tool use and opposable digits. They tick every box in the OP's criteria. $\endgroup$ – Thorne May 8 '19 at 23:57
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Thorne Raccoons do not have opposable digits. $\endgroup$ – Cœur May 9 '19 at 14:04

Limited to animals found naturally in northern California?


Scientific studies have found that crows are as intelligent as seven-year-old human children, being capable of tool use, problem solving, social behaviors, and a number of other things as well.

Give them some genetic engineering to make them bigger so that they can have bigger brains, maybe tinker with their brains a bit more if needed to get them to full human intelligence, maybe graft on some genes from other bird species that still have "thumbs" on their wings, and you're pretty much good to go.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Cows have bigger brains, but are not very intelligent. At least they do not show :) $\endgroup$ – BЈовић May 8 '19 at 10:02
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Scientists studying animal intelligence usually use the ratio of brain size to body size, where crows come in just behind chimps, both of which are at about half the value that humans have. Additionally, birds have a more dense neural net than mammals do due to their optimisations for flight. $\endgroup$ – nick012000 May 8 '19 at 10:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Question talks about selective breeding not genetic engineering, but - were we to recast the question to be about genetic engineering - crows are a poor choice for genetic engineering because the best source of genes to boost intelligence is the surviving human and human genes function best in organisms more similar to humans. It's going to be easier to get those genes working in a rat or a racoon than in a crow. And that's leaving aside the immense difficulties of one person developing novel genetic engineering techniques that work in crows. $\endgroup$ – Jack Aidley May 8 '19 at 13:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good luck controlling their breeding. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. May 8 '19 at 17:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @BЈовић oh dammit, I thought you just made a typo :) $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff May 9 '19 at 15:41

Since you're in charge, the best way to go might just be squishy.


nervous system of cephalopods is the most complex of the invertebrates

Best to work with a species that has huge potential. (Intelligence, manipulation of it's environment, etc..).

Their intelligence and natural inclinations could serve you well:

  • Reproduction:

With brief times between reproductive cycles, many generations can flourish/participate in selective trials/then reproduce in comparativley short times compared to primates/trash pandas etc.

The majority of cephalopods do not provide parental care to their offspring, except, for example, octopus, which helps this organism increase the survival rate of their offspring

Play on the inclination to provide parental care - you've got information being passed from generation to generation. Species learning like humans - this only occured with speach and writing thus...

  • Communication:

highly social creatures

We all know that they can change the patterns of color in their epidermis at-will, but they can simultaneously communicate in two conversations:

Caribbean reef squid can even discriminate between recipients, sending one message using color patterns to a squid on their right, while they send another message to a squid on their left

Perhaps learning to give each of their children what they need rather than a "one size fits all" parenting. #welladjustedoctopus

  • Tool Use:

Opening jars/bottles etc is well-known, but:

Many make "fortresses:

deliberately place stones, shells and even bits of broken bottle to form a wall that constricts the aperture to the den

  • Goal orientation:

all cephalopods are active predators with the possible exceptions of the bigfin squid and vampire squid

You give them objectives, they'll hunt them down and nail them for you - with the right training and the right behaviour-reward system. Sounds like a workforce of very capable Minions to me.

  • Problem solving abilities:

They can:

open the latches on acrylic boxes in order to obtain the food inside. They can also remember solutions to puzzles and learn to solve the same puzzle presented in different configurations.

If it 'aint got tentacles it 'aint chilled.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Only problem would be breeding them to be able to survive on land for long periods of time. (Yes, octopodes can live out of the water for a little while, but they can't reside there permanently.) This would be necessary since the ultimate goal is to train them to build supercomputers, which wouldn't work very well underwater, particularly salt water. $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman May 8 '19 at 14:34
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ But +1 for breeding The Great Old Ones! $\endgroup$ – Vilx- May 8 '19 at 16:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DarrelHoffman You appear to be thinking of electrical apparatus, optronics have no such constraint. Hail Cthulhu. $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. May 8 '19 at 21:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Fortunately, we already have the North American Tree Octopus It's endangered, but After The End, their population may explode... $\endgroup$ – Ruadhan May 9 '19 at 9:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Actually I'm really wishing that site were true. A pet amphibious octopus might be able to do something about the plague of lesser molluscs that have conquered not-so-dry land (i.e. my garden): slugs and snails. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 May 9 '19 at 11:18


They are one the most adaptive and already a fairly intelligent species of animals with the ability to survive even nuclear catastrophes, learn complex behaviour quickly and also learn the usage of tools/equipment provided to them by lab workers.

They have very short generation times, are simple to keep and breed which is the main reason for their usage in labs, also they can virtually eat almost anything organic. In addition, they are easy to keep not just as single animals or small groups like dogs or raccoons, but in large colonies, as they are social animals and do not mind living together with thousands of their own kind, as long as the food sources do not run out.

| improve this answer | |
  • 12
    $\begingroup$ What's up with the excessive highlighting? It makes it difficult to read. Have you ever read any literature written in that form? $\endgroup$ – pipe May 8 '19 at 11:48
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ +1 Short generation time $\endgroup$ – axsvl77 May 8 '19 at 13:47
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Short generation time is actually going to work against you. A species that lives shorter has less time to learn advanced technologies regardless of intelligence. Since your breeder is immortal, how long it takes him is a bit immaterial. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 8 '19 at 14:31
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki But since how long it takes for the immortal is a bit immaterial, they can also breed for increased longevity. Regardless of which animal is chosen they're likely going to have to breed towards something at least as big as a human if they're going for human level intelligence in order for it to have a large enough brain and a large enough body to birth that brain. $\endgroup$ – Shufflepants May 8 '19 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ @pipe You're free to edit. $\endgroup$ – OneHoopyFrood May 8 '19 at 20:07


They are native to Northern California.

They are already domesticated.

They are easy to feed, or can be left to hunt on their own.

Breeding programs for cats are already well understood.

They have a mutation that could lead to the development of true thumbs:

Some polydactyl cats present "mitten paws," which occurs when the extra toes are attached on the medial side, or "thumb" side of the paw. This can lead to a cat that appears to have opposable thumbs. Some cats have learned to manipulate the extra digits like a human thumb. Cats have been known to use this ability to pull stunts that amaze their owners, such as opening latches and windows.

Experiments in breeding for intelligence have proved (at least anecdotally) successful:

it started off as a college Psychology project, and just sort of grew from there. A neighbor had a female "domestic shorthair" (i.e."alley") cat who got herself merrily knocked up by a purebred Siamese tom, and now had kittens to give away. I noticedthat two black kittens in the litter (fortunately a male and a female) had unusually long and deep skulls. I adopted the kittens, raised them, played games with them to stimulate their intelligence, tested them (found nice high kitty IQs, too, which got me a good grade for my Psy. term project), and finally bred them. After that I kept on testing, selecting and breeding subsequent generations of kittens for 1) intelligence, 2) disease-resistance, 3) elegant body-types -- in that order of priority. Well, it worked; I now have a line of "purebred" cats with reliably high intelligence, pretty good disease-resistance, and handsome looks.


My cats, for instance, are on average about as smart as a six-year-old human child -- except for language.

Scientists have attempted to decode cat 'language':

And although cats communicate differently than humans, the animals do have an identifiable language system — something cat owners have no doubt long suspected.

This implies some ability to teach their young:

As well as of course providing food for the kittens during their first few weeks of life, mother cats teach their young a whole host of other things as well, about how to be a cat, and how to take care of themselves and thrive when they do go out on their own.

| improve this answer | |
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ But... ...how are you going to get them to care enough to do what you want? $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat May 8 '19 at 20:51
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @ShadoCat Two words: laser pointers $\endgroup$ – Muuski May 8 '19 at 21:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I currently have a six year old human child, and there is no way in hell that those cats were of equal intelligence, even excluding language. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism May 9 '19 at 9:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Whelkaholism Cats vary a lot. I have a theory that they have top-notch processors but not enough RAM. They solve puzzles, then forget. They do have almost-opposable thumbs already, which is a plus. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 May 9 '19 at 10:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @nigel222 Oh, I'm not disagreeing with the answer, they would be a great starting point for this project, but currently existing cats with the intelligence of a 6yo human? No way. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism May 9 '19 at 10:44


There have been some very good suggestions, but my first thought was squirrels. That they already are fairly intelligent is shown by how they manage to defeat even very intricate obstructions aimed to prevent them from raiding bird tables. In addition, they have hands that can grasp and manipulate small objects.

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |

There is one type of non-human intelligence that is already in abundance in Northern California.

Artificial Intelligence.

Your immortal should spend some time getting familiar with genetic algorithms and neural networks, in addition to general computer networking and server administration. A bit of reading, but probably less to understand than the amount of biology/genetics they would have to learn to do this biologically.

Then they might attempt to get some power going to some of the many major data centers in California. A bit of cleanup, some security against nature, and they should be able to work without too much trouble.

They will probably be able to dig up some non-publicised proprietary Google/Amazon/US Govt algorithms to start with. Maybe with a bit of travelling and investigation they might find a few more ideas around the globe. These can easily be transported back to California.

Take the best ideas from all these locations and put them together. Breeding complete.

  • Northern California - check
  • Mating habits - comment out the behaviours you don't want!
  • Easy to keep fed - you're going to need generators in any case
  • Minimal oversight - automating backups might take a bit of work... Still easier than animals!
  • Starting point - debatable, but this is science-fiction so I reckon it's no harder than most animals

Your definition of intelligence is being able to build supercomputers. My answer almost fits this definition by definition. Almost... a bit of robotics to top it off I suppose.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think the Immortal will already fail "to get some power going". How is a single individual supposed to do that? Systems need to be monitored/managed. Fuel is to be created, transported and burnt. Which then adds a host of additional systems/facilities (possibly spread over a wide area) that need to be maintained by a single person. Most likely deterioration will set in before the Immortal even figured out half the steps to get a stable power grid running. (When speaking of data centers, I doubt a measly generator will do much good. And where to get fuel for that, anyway?) $\endgroup$ – Inarion May 9 '19 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ (Some) solar panels ought to be good for a hundred years. There are lots in California. But one person alone can't manufacture them, so he'll have to make an AI breakthrough within a century or so. Might be a useful plot element: tried, tantalizingly close, ran out of time, back to the animal kingdom. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 May 9 '19 at 10:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's a hell of a lot of wind farms in California too. I never said it would be easy. It will take a long time. But I'd wager it's still faster than waiting for what took evolution millions of years. The immortal's biggest problem will be getting stuck in their own ways and not being able to think outside their own box. $\endgroup$ – Nacht May 9 '19 at 12:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You might be able to get something going with a hydro-powered generator, too, again a fairly simple machine in principle - not totally unimaginable to build from scratch, or from parts salvaged from other machines - and unlike a petrol generator doesn't need fuel. Of course California isn't the greatest site for that but there must be SOME reliable enough rivers, especially once humans aren't messing them about, or you could set up your base by the sea and have a crack at wave power. $\endgroup$ – A. B. May 9 '19 at 20:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you're the only person left one earth, you don't need to worry about wasting gasoline anymore. Most data centers already have an onsite petroleum powered generator. It would've kicked in the day the power grid failed and would've lasted a few days (at the very best) but he really just needs to put gas in it and restart it and he's good to go. Of course, Googles biggest data center is at Niagara falls an it'd still be running for decades without maintenance, most likely. $\endgroup$ – krowe May 10 '19 at 18:21

If I were in such situation, my best bet would be apes (or, at least, monkeys).

They are intelligent, have opposable thumbs, are genetically similar to human beings (in case some genetic engineering was needed) and we know at least one case where they evolved into a sentient species.
In California there is a small population of wild monkeys: in case they can survive to the event that wiped mankind away, he could start with them.

Even better, since the survivor is immortal (so immune to diseases and injuries) and has plenty of time at his disposal, he could invest some dozens of years to equip a boat and organize an expedition to Africa/Borneo to capture some chimps/orangutans and bring them to California.

Morevoer, I would also consider that, during the next milions of years without the concurrence of mankind, it is not unlikely that some other species, somewhere else in the world, could evolve intelligence spontaneously.

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ There are also many species of South American monkeys, if your surviving human can get to them. I rather like the idea of an intelligent species with a prehensile tail (4.5 hands?) $\endgroup$ – nigel222 May 9 '19 at 10:27


You may want to consider otters as one of the most intelligent and adaptable animals, in this case, otters, already present in California so you won't have to introduce them; can be easily trained and if you go to history they have overpassed every expectation humans might had; semiaquatic and they can live both on salted and unsalted water. Already capable of using tools and techniques in daily tasks.

You can find even more details on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otter

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ Since links can be gone at any moment, we prefer to put the relevant part of the linked page in the answer, so that any future reader can benefit from it. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica May 9 '19 at 16:33

This is a frame challenge type answer.

First of all, a note. I have not searched, if there could be a biological proof of this, but I strongly suspect that you can't breed a whole species for intelligence domestically.

Consider the problem you wish to solve. If you were dealing with a mysterious computer right now, when other people are here, how many people out of the 7.5 billion humans on Earth do you suspect could solve it? Maybe 1'000? 10'000? Even if it were 100'000, that would be less than a 0.000013% out of the huge total of all the people on Earth now. There is no reason to expect that you would have better proportions of intelligence among other species, so, if you would like some decent computer scientists(or whoever), you will need a whole throng of at least millions of educated population from which to select them with all the accompanying scaffolding of developed science.

And you haven't said anything about having any other superpowers, beside being immortal. No ability to understand any language you like. No ability of teleportation or being in at least two places at once, no super strength or anything.

So, at your present capabilities, if you try to domestically breed intelligent species, we can assume you will be able to breed separate individuals to be more intelligent, but as long as they are not mixing with larger groups, all that intelligence is withering away or at least not expanding.

What you need is sort of semi-duplicate human civilisation up to the point that they can have computer scientists (or whatever specialists that you need) better than you. This implies a tremendous amount of selection among huge size of populations for a long long time.

While you have quite enough time, you are very limited in what you can do with it. As a normal (albeit immortal) human you can only control and breed a very small population of animals, before you lose control over what's going on where, and either some of the smarter ones dig a tunnel under walls while you were distracted by a fight in other quarters, or your smartest guys simply fought each other to death over a female, while you were sleeping.

Let's say you are OK with that. Do you think that any population of crows, raccoons or apes, for that matter, will produce any civilisation in what is essentially captivity? I think you will hit a dilemma -- either they don't have the need to select for intelligence (because you are protecting them), or they don't have enough intra- and inter- species stimuli (other larger populations to mix with and improve intelligence).

Therefore I think your best bet is to observe existing intelligent(more or less) life where it is, and arrange for challenges and possible nudges in breeding "on site".

This would severely limit your influence on individuals -- their primary communication would be with others of their species -- but in turn you have the whole population at some place who interact with each other, unconsciously training each other, and you can try to arrange for challenges to overcome.

If that is the case, by the way, it might turn out that while you were cheering for, and trying to improve raccoon intelligence, they were surpassed by eg. nearby coyotes, who were quietly developing on their own.

Also, as noted in comments, at any rate, due to timescales involved, your clues are guaranteed to be destroyed aeons before you achieve your breeding results.

| improve this answer | |

I'd go with the black bear.

  • Found in Northern California? Yes, though you're probably better off in Southern California: the Yosemite black bears are notorious for their creativity in accessing human food.
  • Easy to control the mating habits of? Somewhat. They don't engage in pair bonding, so you can mix and match as needed, but they're territorial. If your bears are out in the wild rather than in enclosed pens, you'll have trouble getting the territorial overlap needed for your desired pairings.
  • Easy to keep fed? They need a huge volume of food, but they're extreme omnivores. If you want your breeding stock to be in an enclosed area rather than the wild, you'll want a river with a salmon run or some other way for nature to deliver the food to you.
  • Minimal oversight? Bears are good at looking after themselves.
  • Fairly smart starting point? See the above comment about Yosemite bears (they make Yogi look slow-witted). As a starting point for breeding intelligence, you could start by securing their food behind increasingly complicated (and durable) puzzles.
| improve this answer | |

Since they are not in any of the other answers I'll throw out an obvious one...


  • Native to northern California.

  • Can be isolated in existing aquarium tanks to control breeding. (The San Francisco Bay Area has several large aquariums)

  • They can feed themselves if you let them free to go fishing. Or you can use tanks to breed fish for food purposes fairly easily as well.

  • They are considered one of the most intelligent species out there and are social animals with a language.

The Breeding program would focus on dexterity rather than intelligence, as dolphins already have the intelligence.

| improve this answer | |

While you are breeding racoons, cats and maybe a few other animals for intelligence, you might also try to multiply or clone yourself.

If you are a female, you need to find functioning sperm - some liquid nitrogen canisters with samples may survive a year or so without electricity, and you have enough time to figure out the thawing. Even if the first result was not very good, if natural reproduction is possible, it would probably only take a few generations of 'evil deeds' to produce fully capable males and females.

If you are a male, it gets more complicated:

Find a useful lab and make it sufficiently sterile. You can try thousands of years to isolate cells, make them multiply, and hopefully have some take on the form of an embryo. Once you know how to get that far, it'll probably only take a few hundred more years to make embryos grow into babies.

Once you have a few (hopefully also immortal) clones, you can aid each other for some more variety - If you are male, replace the y chromosome with a copy of the x chromosome to get females, and then do things naturally, which will help when there are not a lot of useful resources left to run a laboratory.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Will lab usage be sustainable? Over the course of millennia, most tools available now will decay without a chance to replace them (due to complex manufacturing chains) and the protagonist is left only with the most basic tools. $\endgroup$ – Inarion May 9 '19 at 9:27
  • $\begingroup$ I agree - but one doesn't need to have everything available to keep a lab going. Not to mention that for most stuff, there will be enough spares and spare parts in other labs which just need to be conserved properly. Both the necessary hygiene and the different nutrient solutions should be possible to take care of without electronics. $\endgroup$ – Carl Dombrowski May 10 '19 at 22:15


They are already solving puzzles and using tools ( https://www.theguardian.com/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/jan/20/1 ) and are well known for their smarts.

But they have one HUGE advantage over dolphins, cows, cats, horses and almost anything else mentioned in other answers:

they are physiologically set up to manipulate objects.

And that is important, because tool use for example is a great way to train smartness and select for breeding it.

Yes you might struggle more with keeping them up and or breeding them, but if you manage that I'd propose a much bigger brain gain than wth any other species.

On top of that I firmly believe that the octopi's brain upper limit is far far higher than that of any other animal considered here, because their brain extends throughout the entire body

| improve this answer | |

They are all intelligent already, and more

Your lone immortal starts with big plans to change things. He sets up breeding experiments, alters ecosystems, working at a frenetic pace, covering his memories, losing himself in the work and the plans.

As the centuries pass, the immortal starts paying more attention to detail. He begins to perceive aspects of the creatures as they are; things they can do and know. Is the project paying off already? But some of these creatures were not his intended subjects. Had he overlooked something? Or not looked close enough?

The immortal looks closer and perceives even more depth in how creatures interact in their environment - working for resources in their short lives, coming together, mating, dying. The complexity seems to have no bottom to it. And underneath the creatures themselves are the immensities of smaller things that both depend on them and govern them. The immortal is awed but not overwhelmed. He has time. Over time he comes to understand that intelligence is only one facet of an amazing jewel that is part of an almost incomprehensibly greater whole. Almost incomprehensible. He is getting closer.

One morning the immortal wakes to find he is not alone. She looks over her shoulder at him and smiles. "So," She asks, gesturing at the woods with Her hand. "Do you like it?"

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your answer sounds a bit like "let someone else do the work", to be honest. $\endgroup$ – Mr Lister May 8 '19 at 13:53
  • $\begingroup$ @MrLister - you understood! But it is "someone else already did the work!" $\endgroup$ – Willk May 8 '19 at 14:27

but any great apes in zoos or labs will have died.

Change that, and assert that they escaped from the zoos. It'll speed up your breeding experiment, since chimps already so similar to humans. The main difference between chimps and humans are the number of times fetal brain cells multiply.

EDIT: added examples of chimpanzee & gorilla escapes from zoos.


"Chimpanzees have used a branch to escape from their enclosure at Belfast zoo in the second breach by animals in recent weeks.

They took advantage of damage caused by stormy weather to stage a breakout, which visitors caught on film."


"SENDAI CITY, Japan - A chimpanzee that escaped from a zoo in Japan went on a wild and dangerous climbing adventure.

The chimp named "Cha-Cha" was on the loose for about two hours before he climbed up a utility, where he sat perched for a while. Rescuers were lifted up in a bucket truck to try to coax him down."


"WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pu'iwa the chimpanzee gave zookeepers at the Honolulu Zoo quite the surprise. ... Sources say the 15 year old male chimp used a barrel to get out of the enclosure, then jumped back in and then bolted again."

"Back in 1997 chimps escaped from the same exhibit because of overhanging trees."

| improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ I think that answer could be salvaged if you explained why the assumption that they died was not so valid. Still, you may have problems with minimum viable populations. $\endgroup$ – Burki May 9 '19 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki in actuality, they might have all died. But it's not outside the realm of believability (and that's all that counts in fiction) that clever and highly motivated (read: hungry) animals with opposable thumbs might be able to escape to look for food. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 9 '19 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ They wouldn't even all have to escape; if one got out, he or she might let out the others. I read about a lurcher that did that at Battersea Dogs' Home - he'd worked out how to open the latch of his cage from the inside, and he was not only breaking out at night to raid the kitchen, he was letting all the other dogs out before he set off! $\endgroup$ – A. B. May 9 '19 at 20:22
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn i don't doubt that they could get out. But i guess you would need to at least draw a sketch of an idea how they did in order to create a viable answer. And of course, the inbreeding problem still exists with such a small population. $\endgroup$ – Burki May 10 '19 at 6:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Burki I've added examples of chimps escaping zoos. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 10 '19 at 16:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.