Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One step closer to finding out why the chicken really crossed the road

Some chickens are as cunning as humans, apparently.

Natural selection strikes again for Macquarie University researchers Dr K-lynn Smith and Professor Chris Evans who won this years' Voiceless Eureka Prize for scientific research that contributes to animal protection.

Having studied chickens for some time in their natural habitats, Smith and Evans found that an animals' intelligence should not be judged on how close or similar the creature is to humans.

Instead, it's believed many animals (in this case chickens) develop signification systems through gestures and behavioral activity that is a product of the ongoing fight for survival in their environment.

Heck, even the roosters seem strung up on getting the chick- I mean hens- by showing off their... umm.. pecks? Ok, enough chicken jokes- showing off their bread-winning and competitive skills.

Here's what Dr Smith told AAP:

"If a male finds food, he can call and do a series of motions and any other chicken seeing this will say, `Aha, that guy has got food.'"

"So if you're a female, you want to take the food (for yourself). If you're a male you can go take the food from him and feed it to another female.

"Because females like males who give them food."

Sound familiar? Smith thinks so:

"It's kind of like boys and girls here - take me to dinner and a dance and I'll be more likely to mate with you."

How romantic. But we are talking about animals, right? Well at least birds, not human beings.

So how do these 'findings' contribute to animal protection?

According to Australian Museum director Frank Howarth, the pairs' study (titled Sentient Chickens: The Scientific Case for Improved Standards) won because "changing people's perceptions about the intelligence of chickens is vital to building a consensus for ending factory farming."

Perhaps we are one step closer to discovering why the chicken crossed the road... or perhaps which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Better still, forget Cats and Dogs and Babe; let's have a 'realistic' movie about a bunch of hens and roosters running around the farm conspiring against each other in a battle of wits. Those cunning chooks!

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