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For flock's sake: Scared sheep send SMSes to Swiss shepherds

Da big bad wolf S cmng ovr hill

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Swiss boffins have been testing SMS-equipped sheep to see if they can send a warning text message when the big, bad wolf approaches, and it looks like they can.

The sheep don't voluntarily send the message, but a heart-rate monitor fitted to a sheep's collar can detect when the animal is stressed, and automatically sends an SMS message when that stress gets high enough, hopefully allowing swift intervention from the shepherd.

The trials, reported by the AFT, involved only 10 sheep who were fitted with collars and threatened with wolfdogs. Even the muzzled hounds were able to send the sheep into enough of a panic to trigger the text message, and the plan is to run (literal) field trials early next year.

Monitoring the heart beat seems technically possible, and one wouldn't have to fit the entire flock with collars for the plan to be effective, but the work does follow one South African farmer who adopted a similar solution together last month to catch sheep rustlers.

Erard Louw has reportedly already caught one thief in action thanks to his collars, which are triggered by sheep breaking out into a trot. Lambs run all the time, but sheep rarely run more than a few steps unless they're being chased by something, so by observing the direction of the jogging adults, the collar can let the farmer know where his sheep are running to.

British sheep don't have to worry about wolves, and rarely worry about rustlers either, in fact they don't even flock properly, and need walls and fences keep them together*. But in Switzerland wolves are on the increase, with the AFP reporting that two sheep were killed by a wolf in St Gall (a canton near Germany) only last week. ®

* Your correspondent once worked on a game based around sheep, including several months spent developing sheep-flocking algorithms, so was very disappointed to discover this fact.

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