Lori Marino and Debra Merskin, Intelligence, complexity, and individuality in sheep


Increasing public understanding of the complexity of wild ungulates can improve animal welfare and advance global conservation efforts of these keystone species. Unfortunately, shaping public opinion on wild species is challenging because personal experience with wildlife is declining, popular education is still biased towards the predator instead of the prey, and scientific research is more difficult to conduct on wild ungulates compared to those on farms, in zoos, or otherwise in captivity. Nevertheless, studies of cognition, individuality, and intelligence of wild ungulates are increasing. I briefly highlight some major results from my own work on complexity in wild elk, illustrating how such studies can help management and conservation, in addition to improve our understanding of how ungulates are more similar to humans than previously thought. I argue that ultimately the greatest challenge may not be in expanding our academic knowledge of complexity in wild and captive ungulates, but in using that knowledge to inform those best positioned to take meaningful action to improve animal welfare and implement wildlife conservation strategies.

Author Biography

Rob Found uses behavioural ecology to promote human-wildlife co-existence by mitigating conflict. He has studied elk personality and its implications for habituation and the loss of migratory behaviour. He has also studied wolves, coyotes, deer, beavers and magpies, and currently works for Parks Canada, where he focuses on the management and conservation of bison. Website