Even after their babies have been weaned and they have been separated for more than a year, mother goats continue to recognize the sounds of their offspring’s voices, reports a new study published Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
According to a Tuesday statement from Queen Mary, University of London, researchers from their School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and colleagues from the University of Nottingham discovered that mother goats can remember the calls of their kids for up to 11 to 17 months and up to 13 months after weaning.
The researchers studied nine pygmy goat mothers and their kids between 2009 and 2011, recording the kid calls at the age of five weeks and playing them back to the mothers between 12 to 18 months later. They discovered that the mother goals not only recognized their individual kids’ calls at the five week mark, but actually could remember them at least one year after weaning, the university said.
The findings suggest that, even after the kids are separated from their mothers, the female goats can still remember and differentiate the calls of their offspring from the calls of other goats’ kids. Furthermore, the researchers believe that this could help mother and daughter goats maintain social relationships, while preventing mother goats from attempting to mate with their sons when they reach sexual maturity.
“Because of the difficulties involved in following the same individuals over years, long-term recognition has been studied in only a few species. Our study shows that animals remember socially important partners,” Dr. Elodie Briefer of Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said.
Dr. Alan McElligott, Briefer’s colleague at the London university, added that the study (which was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation fellowship and the University of London Central Research Fund), provided the researchers with useful insight because “understanding the cognitive capacities of our domestic animals is important for animal welfare and providing the best possible living conditions, particularly if they have such long memories.”