I recognise ewe! Clever sheep raise the baa…

20 February 2011

New research reveals that sheep have been underestimated.

With the ability to make ‘executive decisions’ and recognize both human and sheep faces for up to two years, it seems sheep have not, up until now, been given due credit for their level of intelligence.

University of Cambridge researchers Dr Laura Avanzo and Dr Jennifer Morton stumbled across the animals’ unknown cognitive faculties when researching nuerodegeneration and Huntingdon’s disease. The pair also discovered their woolly test subjects were able to recognise humans and other sheep from photographs.

Avanzo and Morton were testing on a new breed of genetically modified sheep carrying a detective gene that causes Huntingdon’s disease in humans, and found they passed psychological tests that monkeys would fail.

Researchers placed buckets in front of the sheep – one containing food – and switched them in a series of patterns, changing colour and shape. The sheep adjusted their behaviour patterns depending on the sequence.

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’.

It seems that the sheeps’ flock instinct has concealed their true intellectual potential, overriding their innate capacity for higher thought.

Charlotte Callinan

Image: Humbly Kipling, Sacrewell Farm/Vanessa Mills