Sunday, September 18, 2005

Smart sheep

Researcher Caroline Lee with the sheep maze According to a ScienceNOW report sheep can actually be intelligent! (I'm waiting for the one that pigs can fly) Apparently when sheep have to find their way through a simple maze of portable pen gates to join their flock at the other end they can improve their test performance over time by remembering how to do it, a quality that the researchers believe can be bred to make both farmers' and sheep's lives happier.
The maze uses the strong flocking instinct of sheep to motivate them to find their way through. The time it initially takes an animal to rejoin its flock indicates smartness, while subsequent improvement in times over consecutive days of testing measures learning and memory.
But don't we already know that "sheep have excellent spatial memory" as researcher Caroline Lee says? I've always been amazed that despite their apparent stupidity, when sheep enter a new paddock they immediately know where to head to get to the water trough even if they've been in a different and faraway paddock for more than a year and the trough is obscured. Well I suppose that's the "smart" ones remembering and the others all just following. Probably Lee could save a lot of time rating sheep intelligence by simply marking which ones are constantly at the vanguard of a moving flock.

So what are the applications of this new research? In fact sheep are now participating in a new version of Big Brother in Croatia (in an effort to boost the average IQ of Big Brother housemates worldwide).

I can't wait for the international sheep-maze-racing championships to prove Australian sheep really are the most stupid!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home