Researchers have found that goats develop their own “accents” as they grow older and move among social groups. The study, published in the journal Animal Behavior, shows that a goat’s environment affects his or her calls. These findings challenge the scientific community’s widely-held belief that most mammals’ voices are genetically predetermined. Until now, scientists were only aware of a few species capable of developing unique vocalizations based on their social surroundings, including humans, dolphins, and elephants. However, this research suggests that many more mammals may be capable of developing unique voices.
Perhaps more importantly, the conclusions drawn from this new research underscore the significant cognitive abilities of goats and other farm animals, as well as the value of socialization opportunities for the animals. Goats are generally spared the worst horrors of factory farming in the United States, but millions of other highly social and intelligent animals (such as gestating sows, confined in individual crates so narrow that they cannot turn around) are systematically denied the opportunity to socialize and form groups. As our understanding of animal cognition improves, so will our ability to advocate for better animal welfare.