Sheep can recognise human faces, new research shows

New research shows that sheep can recognise human faces, including those of Barack Obama and Emma Watson.

For over a decade, it has been known that sheep can recognise sheep faces, which, according to experts is not surprising for the highly social species. But according to new research sheep can also recognise famous people and their handlers.

Jenny Morton, a neurobiology professor at the University of Cambridge, wanted to study Huntington's disease. Humans with the condition have trouble recognising faces. In order to determine whether sheep would also lose that ability, the researchers first had to demonstrate whether healthy sheep could recognise human faces at all.

Morton saved a group of sheep from slaughter for her research. ''They're just ordinary sheep,'' she told Newsweek. Morton's team developed a research barn, where the sheep would be shown two images at entry. On tapping the right image, they would get food, but if they tapped the wrong image, they would hear a tone and have to wait.

The sheep soon learned that on tapping pictures of certain celebrities, they would get the reward. They could tell the image of a celebrity, from that of a similar-looking person with the same gender and ethnicity.

After it had been established that the sheep could recognise the celebrities, researchers set them a new task.

They wanted to see whether they could correctly identify the same celebrities when pictured from different angles.

The performance of the animals on this task also was significantly above chance.

Finally the sheep demonstrated that they had the ability to recognise their handlers from a photo, from images of their custodians randomly interspersed in a sequence of unfamiliar faces shown to them on the screens.

According to the researchers, the results show that the animals' face-recognition abilities are similar to those of monkeys, apes - and humans.

The researchers say it might be interesting in future to investigate whether sheep can identify different expressions on human faces.