Goats are far more clever than previously thought

Mar 25, 2014
New research from Queen Mary University of London shows goats learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and can recall how to perform them for at least 10 months, which might explain their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh environments. Credit: Brian Squibb

Goats learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and can recall how to perform them for at least 10 months, which might explain their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh environments, say researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Zoology today, the scientists trained a group of 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 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," said co-author Dr Elodie Briefer, now based at ETH Zurich.

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

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

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
The video shows how much goats like cognitive challenges and their motivation to access the box. This goat, called Willow, had already learned how to use the box and retrieve the food. We can see how it jumps over a fence to access the test. Credit: Queen Mary University of London

This is the first time that scientists have investigated how goats learn complex physical cognition tasks, which could explain why they are so adaptable to and good at foraging for plants in the wild, for example.

Co-author Dr Alan McElligott from Queen Mary's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, commented: "Our 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.

This 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. Credit: Queen Mary University of London

"This could explain why they are so successful in colonising new environments, though we would need to perform a similar study with wild goats to be sure."

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

Explore further: University clinical pharmacologist researching chronic lead intoxication in goats

More information: Goats excel at learning and remembering a highly novel cognitive task, Elodie F Briefer, Samaah Haque, Luigi Baciadonna and Alan G McElligott, Frontiers in Zoology 2014, 11:20, DOI: 10.1186/1742-9994-11-20

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User comments : 2

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John92
not rated yet Mar 26, 2014
GOAT SIMULATOR 2014. EPIC
Jizby
Mar 26, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
11791
Mar 31, 2014
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loopy_martin
not rated yet Apr 01, 2014
Goats are Space oddities; odd ETs left behind to watch the desert edges of earth and teach people how to learn