Myanmar Timber Elephant Project

Yet another new paper out by Océane Liehrmann et al! First report of reindeer responses to human-given cues

May 16, 2023


Many argue that the animal understanding of human referential communication is a by-product of domestication. However, the domestication hypothesis is not unanimously supported as some nondomesticated species such as sea lions, dolphins, or African elephants perform well in the understanding of human pointing gesture. There is a need to study species with different levels of domestication across different taxa to understand the emerging communicative sociocognitive skills in animals that provide them with the ability to comprehend human-given cues. We conducted a pilot study to assess the performance of eight sledging reindeer following a commonly used human-given cue (a pointing gesture associated with gaze at the target and local enhancement) in a two-way choice task. Domestic reindeer are considered semicaptive, because of their husbandry system in free-ranging conditions, with limited control of their reproduction. We observed that the willingness of the reindeer to participate in the test was age-related, with the younger individuals which lack experience with humans being reluctant to approach the experimenters. Within the more experienced working sledging reindeer, two individuals showed excellent skills and followed the human-given cues 9 out of 10 times. Reindeer show great potential in following a human indication to locate hidden food with minimal training when properly tamed. The effect of previous experience with humans requires further investigation. This is the first demonstration in cervids of an ability to make use of experimenter-given cues in an object-choice task. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved)

Read more:

Liehrmann O., Ollila, A., Lummaa, V., Lansade L., Seltmann, M. (2023) First report of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) response to human-given cues. Journal of Comparative Psychology. Advance online publication.

Reindeer can follow human indications even with minimal training

What is it about?

We explored the ability of reindeer to follow human indications. Reindeer had to refer to the human indications to choose between to buckets, the one from which they would get a food reward. Reindeer showed great performances and appear to be a promising model to continue study deer cognition.

Why is it important? 

Very little is known about deer cognition and as the only domesticated deer species the reindeer is an excellent model to investigate how domestication may have promote the animal ability to communicate with humans.