Asia said goodbye to the Year of the Horse yesterday and rang in the New Year on Thursday with parades and fireworks celebrating the Year of the Sheep (or Goat or Ram).
According to the Chinese lunar calendar, February 19, 2015, begins the celebration of the animal considered to be a general symbol of plenitude and good fortune and emblematic of kindness.
If you have never encountered sheep, the animals are complex creatures with qualities that make them good CEOs. They also can remember your face for up to two years, especially if you are smiling. Here are a few little known facts about sheep from the Farm Sanctuary, which operates three shelters in New York and California that provide lifelong care for nearly 1,000 rescued farm animals.
1) Sheep are famously friendly
Sheep wag their tails like dogs, they know their names, and they form strong bonds with other sheep, goats, and with people.
2) Sheep experience emotion similarly to humans
A study published in Animal Welfare showed that sheep experience emotion in ways similar to humans. The authors concluded that “sheep are able to experience emotions such as fear, anger, rage, despair, boredom, disgust, and happiness, because they use the same checks involved in such emotions as humans.
3) Sheep have panoramic vision
Thanks to their cool rectangular pupils, sheep can see almost 360 degrees, including directly behind themselves!
4) Sheep know how you feel
Another study from Cambridge University found that sheep — like humans and some primates — can pick up emotional cues in both humans and other sheep. Not surprisingly, they strongly preferred smiling and relaxed expressions over angry ones.
5) Sheep never forget a face
Researchers in the United Kingdom, writing for Nature, found that sheep have the same “specialized neural mechanisms for visual recognition” that humans do, which allows them to remember the faces of at least 50 individual humans and other sheep for more than two years, “and that the specialized neural circuits involved maintain selective encoding of individual sheep and human faces even after long periods of separation.”
6) Sheep are the CEOs of the barnyard
Sheep can learn how to solve puzzles, remember what they’ve learned, and adapt to changed circumstances — all much more quickly than monkeys. The researchers note what they call the “impressive cognitive abilities of sheep” and find that “sheep can perform ‘executive’ cognitive tasks that are an important part of the primate behavioral repertoire, but that have never been shown previously to exist in any other large animal” other than humans and some other primates.