Friday, February 11, 2011

Thick as Sheep

Most people would probably say that sheep are stupid. Nothing but a herd instinct with wool on.

But the people who study sheep are finding that they are very intelligent, even able to master tests that are used to measure human intelligence.

Sheep can not only recognize different plants, they can generalize about them and categorize them by family. This represents thinking beyond the "here and now" that we're told dominates animal thought.

Sheep have been shown to recognize and remember many dozens of faces not only of other sheep, but of humans, too. Watch any animal-themed movie that uses multiple stand-ins for the star and you realize that most people can't distinguish between the faces of different animals.

Sheep can also memorize the routes through mazes (an ability that has many real-life benefits). And while rams fighting with each other may make for good video, they actually form long-term friendships and help their friends in fights. This article in New Scientist magazine also describes how sheep can master a test that it was previously thought only humans and primates could master, a test that requires such complex thinking that it is used to detect the onset of dementia.

What I would like to see, though, is proof of the reports that sheep have learned to lie down and roll over cattle grids that are meant to keep them fenced in. This would be a brilliant maneuver, but there's no video or photo of such a thing. Sheep can jump over 5 foot fences or even squeeze through gaps as small as 8 inches wide, but think what a YouTube sensation it would be if someone could record this rolling maneuver. I'm not saying it's impossible, but seeing it would remove any doubt.

Until that video shows up, here's one smart individual:

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