Baa-rack! Sheep recognize Obama from photo

The animal’s ability to learn to recognize a person from a 2D photograph was surprising, since this requires complex brain processing.
Updated 08 November 2017

Baa-rack! Sheep recognize Obama from photo

PARIS: Sheep learnt to recognize Barack Obama after being shown his photo a few dozen times, said a study Wednesday which suggested our four-legged friends may be smarter than we think.
The former US 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.
“We chose these people because there were lots of images of each person available on line, both front-on and taken at different angles,” study co-author Jennifer Morton of the University of Cambridge told AFP.
“We also chose them because we were sure that our sheep had never met them in person!.”
Morton and a team trained eight sheep to recognize the famous faces from a frontal photo of each of them.
Every time an animal picked the celebrity face instead of a different image on a second screen, it would get a food reward.

The sheep would nuzzle up close to their chosen screen, where they would trigger an infrared sensor releasing a treat, if they had chosen correctly.
In subsequent tests, the sheep chose the learnt celebrity face eight times out of every ten, said the research team.
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’s accuracy dipped to about 66 percent — “a magnitude similar to that seen when humans perform this task,” the team reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
The animal’s “ability to learn to recognize a person from a 2D (two-dimensional) photograph was surprising, since this requires complex brain processing,” said Morton.
In a fifth, and final task, the sheep were shown a photograph of their day-to-day handler — who they know well but have never seen a picture of — next to that of an unknown person.
After some initial confusion, the animals picked the handler’s picture in 72 percent of cases.
“Humans do tend to underestimate the ability of sheep,” Morton said by email. “This current study adds an interesting new ability to the surprising wide repertoire of behavior of sheep.”
Face recognition is a critical social skill in humans, and we are able to identify a known person within millizeconds of seeing them.
Many other animals are known to recognize the faces among their own species, while some — including macaques, horses, dogs, mockingbirds, and sheep — can identify individuals from other species too.
The new evidence suggests that sheep can process information about a human face without requiring a 3-D “real person,” said Morton.
The study feeds into ongoing research on treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s, in which face perception can be impaired.
A sheep “model” of Huntington’s disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients.
“This face recognition task will allow us to test whether or not sheep carrying the Huntington’s disease gene mutation are impaired in their ability to think and reason,” Morton explained.
“If this is the case, we can use the test to measure the beneficial effect of new treatments.”
 


Australian man survives croc attack by gouging its eye

Updated 16 November 2019

Australian man survives croc attack by gouging its eye

  • Wildlife ranger Craig Dickmann made a split-second decision to go fishing in a remote part of Northern Australia known as ‘croc country.’
  • ‘That noise will haunt me forever I think, the sound of the snap of its jaws’

CAIRNS, Australia: An Australian wildlife ranger has recounted his terrifying escape from the clutches of a “particularly cunning” crocodile, after wrestling with the reptile and sticking a finger in its eye.
Craig Dickmann, who made a split-second decision to go fishing last Sunday in a remote part of Northern Australia known as “croc country” last Sunday, said a 2.8-meter (nine-foot) crocodile came up from behind him as he was leaving the beach.
“As I’ve turned to go, the first thing I see is its head just come at me,” he told reporters on Friday from his hospital bed in the town of Cairns in Queensland state.
Dickmann said the animal latched on to his thigh.
“That noise will haunt me forever I think, the sound of the snap of its jaws,” he said.
The 54-year-old said he wrestled with the croc on the remote beach as it tried to drag him into the water.
Dickmann stuck his thumb into its eye, saying it was the only “soft spot” he found on the “bullet-proof” animal.
“Their eyes retract a fair way and when you go down far enough you can feel bone so I pushed as far as I possibly could and then it let go at that point,” Dickmann said.
After a few minutes, he said he managed to get on top of the croc and pin its jaws shut.
“And then, I think both the croc and I had a moment where we’re going, ‘well, what do we do now?’”
Dickmann said he then pushed the croc away from him and it slid back into the water.
The ranger had skin ripped from his hands and legs in the ordeal and drove more than 45 minutes back to his home before calling emergency services.
It was then another hour in the car to meet the Royal Flying Doctors Service who flew him to Cairns Hospital, where he is recovering from the ordeal.
“This croc was particularly cunning and particularly devious,” he said.
Queensland’s department of environment this week euthanized the animal.
“The area is known croc country and people in the area are reminded to always be crocwise,” the department said in a statement.
Saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to seven meters long and weigh more than a ton, are common in the vast continent’s tropical north.
Their numbers have exploded since they were declared a protected species in the 1970s, with attacks on humans rare.
According to the state government, the last non-fatal attack was in January 2018 in the Torres Strait while the last death was in October 2017 in Port Douglas.