Sheep Move Towards Center of Group When They Face Threat

Jul 29, 2012 11:24 AM EDT

It is well known that animals moving in groups try to force themselves to the center of the group when they sense a predator attack. For the first time researchers have proven this theory using Global Positioning System (GPS).

A team of researchers from the Royal Veterinary College, University of College, London, and Cambridge University placed a GPS on every sheep belonging to a group to track their movements.

The researchers gave training to an Australian Kelpie working dog to drive the flock of sheep. As the dog neared the sheep, they immediately reacted to the threat and started moving towards the center of the group to avoid the chances of getting picked up by a predator.

While it is very difficult to study the social behavior of the animals as to how they react to predators, the researchers were able track each and every of the sheep using the GPS.

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"For the first time, we could show the individual movement trajectories of all the animals involved," Dr. Andrew King of The Royal Veterinary College told the BBC. "Before, we could 'say, yep, they move in and run to the center'. But because of the GPS backpacks tracking movement every second, [we were able] to monitor every animal when they were under threat." 

Earlier studies have shown that sheep are very intelligent creatures with advance learning capabilities. They are said to have good memory power and can map their surroundings. Sheep react on fear instincts, and prefer to move in groups for their safety.

Research conducted by the University of Cambridge last year found that sheep have the brainpower equal to the rodents and sometimes equal to humans.The recent study on sheep movements will help in further understanding the social behavior of the animals as to how they organize and achieve their tasks.

It can also give the opportunity to learn about neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington since sheep are the best model to study the neurological condition.

he study is published in the journal Current Biology.

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