There are few more romantic or ancient professions than the shepherd, the keeper and protector of the flock.
In classical times he (or she: Amaryllis is a shepherdess in Virgil's Bucolics) came to symbolise innocence in an unspoilt natural idyll. Christianity found in the job spec a handy echo of some of its deity's duties, namely keeping an eye on the populace. Even the culinary world celebrates shepherds with a pie named in their honour.
So far, so Arcadian. But while we may still look to antiquity for our image of the 21st-century shepherd – a benevolent sort wandering the hills with hand raised to laughter-lined eyes and crook ready to pluck lambs from the blades of wind turbines – it's fair to say this 6000-year-old profession has moved with the times. Moving with the times means having a flock which can communicate with you via text message.
With the return of wolves to European upland areas such as the Alps, shepherds in Switzerland are using prototype collars designed by wolf expert Dr Jean-Marc Landy which can do just that.
Trials using sheep as guinea pigs and muzzled dogs as wolves – try to stay with me here – have shown that a sheep's resting heart rate of between 60 and 80 beats-per-minute rises threefold when it's being chased by anything vaguely lupine.
When this happens, the collar sends a text to the shepherd, who responds with whatever wolf-chasing equipment he has to hand.
If the text system doesn't work in the prototypes, says Dr Landy, the collars could be re-designed to deliver a chemical repellent or emit a loud noise to scare off a hungry wolf. May we suggest As Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night performed a capella by One Direction?
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