Sheep can recognize Baaaa-rack Obama's face, new study shows

Sheep graze in western Germany on Nov. 6

Sheep graze in western Germany on Nov. 6

Sheep learnt to recognise Barack Obama after being shown his photo a few dozen times, said a study on November 8 which suggested our four-legged friends may be smarter than we think. On one side would be an unknown person and on the other would be one of four celebrities.

The former U.S. president was one of four celebrities used in a test of the woolly creatures' face-recognition skills, along with Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, British TV host Fiona Bruce and American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, the research team said.

The new study which was published in Royal Society Open Science, concludes that sheep are smart enough to identify humans and nonhuman primates by face.

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Initially, the sheep were trained to approach certain images by being given food rewards.

A sheep correctly picking the photo of Emma Watson.

In a final test, the sheep had to choose between a picture of one of their handlers' faces and an unfamiliar face. The sheep could even recognize images of faces shown at an angle, though their ability to do so declined by about 15 percent - the same rate at which a human's ability to perform the same task declines. Since the handler cares for the sheep daily, the animals were familiar with her - although they had never seen a 2-D photo of her face.

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They then challenged the animals again, this time by showing them a picture of the same celebrity, but using a new photo of their face tilted at an angle.

The sheep picked the celebrity's face eight times out of 10.

"This ability has previously been shown only in humans", the scientists write. This convinced the researchers that sheep had face-recognition abilities similar to ours.

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Obviously the study focused on only eight domestic sheep, and it does mention some potential alternative interpretations of the data. "Either the human face is similar enough to the sheep face that [it] activates the sheep face-processing system, or human-face recognition relies on more general-purpose recognition systems".

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