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No. 113: Sep-Oct 1997

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Sheep Foil Cattle Guards

When farmers and ranchers wish to keep livestock from exiting a fenced pasture via an entrance road, they can either install an inconvenient gate or a "cattle guard." The latter is a grid of metal bars bridging a shallow pit. Cattle cannot cross because their feet would slip between the bars. Neat idea! But some sheep, normally considered rather dull animals with miniscule initiative, have invented a scheme to thwart cattle guards. When they see greener pastures, in particular succulent gardens on the nether side of a cattle guard, one sheep volunteers (?) or is picked (we don't know which). It altruistically flings itself across the grid and stoically endures while the rest of the flock trots across its body. The selfless sheep is usually marooned on the wrong side of the grid, but at least it has the pasture all to itself.

(Anonymous; "Selfless Sacrifice Puts Sheep in Clover," London Times, March 20, 1997. Cr. A.C.A. Silk.)

Comment. Yes, contrary to some animal behaviorists, animals can be altruistic. Furthermore, sheep can size up a problem, conceive a solution, and act collectively.             

Reference. The question of altruism in mammals is discussed in Section BMB4 in our Catalog Mammals I. To order, visit here.

From Science Frontiers #113, SEP-OCT 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987