New study finds goats ‘show when they are happy’

Happy goats tend to point their ears forward, scientists have found. Picture: PA

Happy goats tend to point their ears forward, scientists have found. Picture: PA

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A STUDY of happy goats could provide greater understanding of the emotions of other species and improve the way animals are treated, scientists claim.

While fear and stress are relatively easy to spot in animals, and well researched, it is often more difficult to recognise subtle positive emotions.

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Scientists recruited residents at Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Boughton Monchelsea, Kent, to investigate the way they expressed different mild emotional states.

They found that goats were more likely to point their ears forward and keep their tail up when they were in a “happy” positive state.

They also uttered more stable calls, that were less varied in frequency.

Dr Alan McElligott, from Queen Mary, University of London, who led the research, said: “It is often relatively easy to identify negative emotions in animals but we know little about how they show that they are experiencing positive states.

“Subtle hints from goats like small changes in their calls, their heart rate or the position of their ears tell us about what state it is in and could indicate whether their environment is good for their welfare or not.”

The findings, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, could lead to changes in the way animals are looked after, the researchers believe.

Co-author Dr Elodie Briefer, from the Swiss university ETH Zurich, said: “In this study, we were able to identify not only indicators of emotional arousal, but also whether emotions were positive or negative.

“Such indicators are important for the welfare of the animals, because they tell us when the animals are experiencing a negative versus a positive emotion, and we can thus adapt the environment to avoid negative emotions and promote positive ones.”

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