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SHEEP AREN’T SHEEPISH ABOUT SWIMMING

SHARE SHEEP AREN’T SHEEPISH ABOUT SWIMMING

Believe it or not, sheep swim, as do other large mammals. "It's basically instinctive, a life-saving device," says Edward Spevak, assistant curator or mammals at the Bronx Zoo. "They don't go swimming every day, but in case of flooding, or falling into a river, in essence they know how to swim."

Sheep have never been known as big swimmers, and most of the habitat where they evolved does not have a lot of water resources, but swimming is part of their repertoire of skills, he said.First of all, like many animals, they float, Spevak explained. "Then, in struggling to keep the head above water and to keep breathing, the method they use is basically fast walking, which constitutes a kind of dog paddle."

"A number of mammals that do not normally swim, like a migrating caribou or a wildebeeste . . . , know they want to cross a river, get in and dog-paddle across," he said.

Other large mammals are swimmers, too, Spevak said. Cattle can swim when herded across a river, as Western movie fans know. Deer can swim, as well. "The moose, the largest deer in the world, actually feeds in water and is a very good swimmer," Spevak said.

- C. Claiborne Ray