smart goat
A goat pulling a lever (A), lifting a lever (B), and enjoying the "fruit" of its labor (C). Briefer et al. / Frontiers in Zoology

You think goats are dumb? Think again.

New research found that most goats tested could quickly figure out how to solve a “mechanical puzzle” that yielded a delicious piece of fruit. In this case they had to pull on and then lift up a lever, a “highly novel cognitive task.” Completing this two-step process caused a box to open, within which was a piece of fruit. Of the 12 goats tested, nine of them got it within fewer than a dozen trials on average. Two of them were disqualified for trying to pry open the fruit-box with their horns, which actually might have been a smart idea (and it’s not like the goats knew they’d be DQ’ed), and one was dismissed as hopeless upon not showing signs of learning the task after 22 trials.

The scientists re-tested the goats 10 months later, and this time they solved the puzzle much more quickly, within two minutes. “The speed at which the goats completed the task at 10 months compared to how long it took them to learn indicates excellent long-term memory,” co-author Dr Elodie Briefer, at ETH Zurich, said in a statement.

The study, published this week in _Frontiers in Zoology,_ shows that goats can learn rather quickly, and can also store these lessons in long-term memory. Researchers had suspected that goats are intelligent, based on their ability to colonize new and harsh environments, to find and remember the location of hard-to-reach foods (for example Moroccan goats are known to climb trees to reach sprigs), and their relatively long lifespans, during which time they can build up a repertoire of memories and skills, as reported by Smithsonian.