Know­ing me, know­ing ewe

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

THERE now ex­ist eight Welsh moun­tain ewes that as­so­ciate the faces of Emma Wat­son, Barack Obama (right), Fiona Bruce and Jake Gyl­len­haal with food treats.

Cam­bridge Univer­sity sci­en­tists have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with these ewes, which were res­cued from the slaugh­ter­house, and have dis­cov­ered that sheep recog­nise hu­man faces. They quickly learnt to dis­crim­i­nate faces from blank screens or other ob­jects 90% of the time and were able to tell their four new celebrity friends apart from other faces eight times out of 10, even with dif­fer­ent hair­styles.

The re­sults, which are pub­lished in Royal So­ci­ety Open Sci­ence, could be of as­sis­tance in de­vel­op­ing new drugs for de­men­tia and other neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tions, as sheep’s brains are far more sim­i­lar to hu­mans’ than those of mice or rats. How­ever, we are ad­vised that this new in­sight should not much al­ter the gen­eral per­cep­tion of sheep. ‘We’ve shown that sheep have ad­vanced face-recog­ni­tion abil­i­ties, com­pa­ra­ble with those of hu­mans… [but] sheep do some re­ally stupid things,’ says Prof Jennifer Mor­ton. ‘They’re not go­ing to build a rocket and go to the Moon.’

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