Sheep Raising the Baa of Intelligence

Think you pull the wool over a sheep’s eye? It turns out that sheep are just not as stupid as we previously thought, according to researchers from the University of Cambridge.

Lone sheep raise the bar of animal intelligence
Lone sheep raise the bar of animal intelligence

Although sheep are thought of not being that intelligent, do not over look our woolly friends. Sheep are actually so smart that they can actually make executive decisions, and have relatively long memories as they remember their friends for at least 2 human years. According to University of Cambrdige Scientists, they can also remember faces – whether it be human or sheep – and can also recall faces whilst looking at photographs.

Monkeys are considered an intelligent species. However according to their study, sheep can actually pass psychological tests that monkeys would fail. Dr Laura Avanzo and Dr Jennifer Morton were studying neurodegeneration, focusing on Huntingdon’s disease. This disease is an inherited neuro-disorder that leads to dementia and nerve damage.

These Scientists actually just stumbled onto their findings by accident. As part of their neurodegeneration research, they studed a new breed of sheep that was genetically lmodified. These sheep each carried a defective gene that causes Huntingdon’s disease in humans. They also needed to study normal sheep as a control in order to properly compare and contrast their finding with the genetically-modified sheep.

Dr Avanzo and Dr Morton subjected 7 female domesticated sheep to a series of tests which are normally carried out on humans suffering from Huntingdon’s disease. What they found truly amazed them.

The researchers placed pairs of different coloured buckets in front of them – and only one of the buckets contained food at any one time. Tey then switched the food from bucket to bucket, and also alternated the colours and eventually even the shapes of these food buckets.

The sheep learned to recognise different colour patterns.Their behaviour changed according to the pattern that they looked at. In addition, based on various shapes placed in front of them, the sheep altered their behaviour.

The Scientists say that only humans and other primates would find these responses easy. Large animals generally struggle with these sorts of tests.

According to New Scientist, in order to successfully complete these tasks, they have to use their prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is larger in humans compared to other animal species.

For decades, animal behavioural specialists have focused their attention to monkeys for testing. Dr Avanzo and Dr Morton believed that sheep, like humans, behave differently when in a flock compared to while they are alone.

Dr Morton said, “Sheep live in a flock, and in a flock they’re rather silly. When you work with them as individuals, they behave very differently.”

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