While it may sound like any other bleat to us mere humans, goats have been found to be able to differentiate between the calls from familiar and unfamiliar mates, according to a new study.
The research, led by Dr Benjamin Pitcher, demonstrates that in addition to having an awareness of how other goats look, the animals are also conscious of the way that they sound, demonstrating a higher-level of cognitive ability than previously thought.
As part of the study, researchers placed a 'watcher' goat facing the pens of two 'caller' goats -- one of these being one of the watcher's stablemates, the other an unfamiliar goat. A call was then played from a speaker placed halfway between the two 'callers', which the watcher was able to recognise.
"If one of the two was the stablemate -- their best friend -- they were able to make the association between the sounds of the goat and how they look," Pitcher told The Huffington Post Australia.
"They would then look toward the right individual. [However] if it was two goats they didn't know quite so well, they didn't make that choice -- they needed to know the goat fairly well to form that image of their friend."
The results of the long-running study demonstrate that goats may be more intelligent than we think, joining the likes of other species such as horses, dogs and some types of apes that have demonstrated an ability to make cross-modal associations.
"It tells us that goats have a higher level cognition than perhaps we may have previously thought. Rather than simply recognising the sound and saying they know what it means, they are able to associate multiple pieces of information about other animals," Pitcher said.
"When they hear the sound of another goat, it conjures up an image of that goat that potentially contains information about how they look and maybe, though the research hasn't been done, how they smell and behave."
The ability to differentiate between different calls may also last for life, with the research of Pitcher's colleague, Dr Elodie Briefer, demonstrating that mother goats remember their kids' call for an extended period of time.
"This allows them to build longer term social relationships with them and maybe allows things like inbreeding avoidance," Pitcher said.
The study, conducted by Queen Mary University of London, was carried out using goats from the Buttercups Sanctuary that have been victims of neglect. The findings also indicate that goats are able to make extraordinary recoveries after being removed from poor environments.