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Studies Show Goats ARE Clever

Alan Harman

Sequence shows how the goats needed to learn how to retrieve food from a box. They used a linked sequence of steps; first by pulling a lever with their mouths and then by lifting it to release the reward.(Queen Mary University photo)
Sequence shows how the goats needed to learn how to retrieve food from a box. They used a linked sequence of steps; first by pulling a lever with their mouths and then by lifting it to release the reward. (Queen Mary University photo)

Goats are even cleverer than previously thought, learning how to solve complicated tasks quickly and recalling how to perform them for at least 10 months, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

The scientists trained a group of goats to retrieve food from a box using a linked sequence of steps; first by pulling a lever with their mouths and then by lifting it to release the reward.

The researchers trained 12 goats to complete the two-step challenge and nine were successful.

Their research report in the journal Frontiers in Zoology says the goats’ ability to remember the task was tested after one month and again at 10 months. They learned the task within 12 trials and took less than two minutes to remember the challenge.

“The speed at which the goats completed the task at 10 months compared to how long it took them to learn indicates excellent long-term memory,” report co-author Elodie Briefer said.

Before each learning session, some of the goats had the opportunity to watch another goat to demonstrate the task.

“We found that those without a demonstrator were just as fast at learning as those that had seen demonstrations,” Briefer said. “This shows that goats prefer to learn on their own rather than by watching others.”

This is the first time scientists have investigated how goats learn complex physical cognition tasks and co-author Alan McElligott said the results challenge the common misconception that goats aren’t intelligent animals.

“They have the ability to learn complex tasks and remember them for a long time,” he said. “This could explain why they are so successful in colonizing new environments, though we would need to perform a similar study with wild goats to be sure.”

The research, supported through a Swiss Federal Veterinary Office grant and Swiss National Science Foundation fellowship, was based on data collected at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Kent, England.





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