GPS sheep tracking supports 40-year-old theory

Instead of fleeing randomly when faced with a predator, sheep attempt to bury themselves within their flock, new UK research has shown.

The theory that animals moving in groups retreat towards the centre of their flocks if a predator appears has been tested before.

But the researchers are the first to show that sheep behave this way using GPS technology.

Details of the work are published in the journal Current Biology.

Dr Andrew King of The Royal Veterinary College in London co-authored the paper with colleagues from UCL and Cambridge University.

After training an Australian Kelpie working dog to herd a flock of sheep towards an open gate, Dr King's team tracked the movement of the individual sheep as they reacted to the threat and interacted with each other.

Their research shows that as the dog got within 70m of the flock, the sheep began to clump towards the centre of the group.

The British evolutionary biologist Bill Hamilton predicted that individuals within groups move towards the centre when danger appears in order to reduce the chance of being picked off by a predator.

The researchers hope their work will act as a baseline on which further studies into how neurological changes can affect behaviours between individuals can be built.


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