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Sheep ‘can be trained to recognise faces’
Sheep are considered a good animal model for studying Huntingdon’s disease.
Facial recognition comparable to humans and monkeys - study

Sheep can be trained to recognise faces from photographs and are able to identify pictures of their handlers without training, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge say they managed to train eight sheep to recognise four celebrities (Fiona Bruce, Jake Gyllenhaal, Barrack Obama and Emma Watson) from photos displayed on computer screens.

Sheep are social animals that can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans, yet little is known about their ability to process faces.

Lead author Professor Jenny Morton, said: “Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognise their handlers. We’ve shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys.”

During training, two photographs were displayed on computer screens at one end of a specially designed pen. The sheep received a food reward each time they chose a photo of the celebrity, but if they chose the other photo, a buzzer went off and they did not receive a reward.

After training was complete, sheep were shown a photo of the celebrity’s face and one of another face. In this test, sheep chose the celebrity’s photo eight times out of 10.

To test how well the sheep recognised the faces, researchers then showed them the faces at an angle. Their performance dropped by only 15 per cent, which is comparable to that seen when humans carry out this task.

Finally, the researchers randomly interspersed a photograph of the sheep’s handler in place of the celebrity. They found the sheep chose a photograph of their handler over the unfamiliar face seven times out of 10, despite the fact that they had never seen a photograph of their handler before. Interestingly, the team said sheep did a ‘double take’ on seeing a photograph of their handler for the first time.

Owing to their longevity and relatively large brains, sheep are considered a good animal model for studying Huntingdon’s disease, which affects more than 6,700 people in the UK. It is an incurable neurodegenerative disease that initially affects motor coordination, mood, personality and memory, as well as impaired recognition of facial emotions.

Prof Morton’s team recently began studying sheep that are genetically modified to carry the mutation that causes Huntingdon’s disease.

She added: “Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change, particularly in sheep who carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington’s disease.”

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Amur leopard cubs caught on camera

News Story 1
 A pair of Amur leopards have been captured on camera for the first time since their birth. The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland announced the birth in July, but with human presence being kept to a minimum, it was not known how many cubs had been born.

Motion sensitive cameras have now revealed that two cubs emerged from the den - at least one of which may be released into the wild in Russia within the next two or three years. The Amur leopard habitat is not open to the public, to help ensure the cubs retain their wild instincts and behaviour. Image © RZSS 

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News Shorts
New canine and feline dentistry manual announced

A new canine and feline dentistry and oral surgery manual has been published by the BSAVA. Announcing the news on its website, the BSAVA said this latest edition contains new step-by-step operative techniques, together with full-colour illustrations and photographs.

‘This is a timely publication; veterinary dentistry is a field that continues to grow in importance for the general veterinary practitioner,’ the BSAVA said. ‘The manual has been fully revised and updated to include the most relevant, evidence-based techniques.’

The BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Dentistry and Oral Surgery, 4th edition is available to purchase from www.bsava.com/shop