Baaaaa: Goats Are Really Smart

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Goats turn out to be far more intelligent than previously thought, finds a new study.

Goats solved a complicated task quickly and could remember how to perform it for at least 10 months, according to the study, which is published in the current issue of Frontiers in Zoology.

“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,” co-author Elodie Briefer, of ETH Zurich, said in a press release.

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Briefer and her colleagues trained a dozen goats to retrieve food from a box using a linked sequence of steps. The goats first had to pull a lever with their mouths and then lift the lever to release the tasty treat.

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.

Some of the goats watched another goat demonstrate the task beforehand, but this didn’t seem to affect the results.

“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.”

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The new study represents the first time that scientists have investigated how goats learn complex tasks. The goats’ ease at solving the task could explain why these animals are so adaptable to harsh environments and are good at foraging for plants in the wild.

“Our results challenge the common misconception that goats aren’t intelligent animals,” said co-author Alan McElligott from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. “They have the ability to learn complex tasks and remember them for a long time.”

Photo: Brian Squibb