Heather Kinkaid and Yvonne van Zeeland launch the Utrecht-Guelph parrot survey

21 04 2012

After a tonne of work (it’s taken my PhD student Heather and Yvonne, along with a team of others, over a year to perfect this comprehensive survey, stock it with species images, and have it translated into seven languages), their truly magnificent questionnaire on pet parrot welfare has gone live! Over 500 owners registered within the first few days, even before the survey was quite ready to really run! The registration page can be seen here, so if you have a pet parrot, we’d love you to sign up: http://www.parrotsurvey.com/

Now Yvonne and Heather just have to wait for the data roll in. Yvonne, by the way, is a Dutch vet, PhD researcher, and lead author of the definitive scholarly guide to feather-damaging behaviour in parrots (Zeeland et al. 2009, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume: 121, pp. 75-9). Heather and I have never met in person, but after many phonecalls and approximately 1 000 000 emails, we feel we know her very well and really look forward to some day toasting her and our collaboration in person, in some nice little canal-side bar in Utrecht…

Powerful CBC program on the lasting effects of good or bad childhoods…

20 04 2012

….and a powerful advert for giving rats enrichment too:

A terrific and moving find by PhD student Jamie Dallaire.

Jamie’s paper on rehabilitated ‘bile farm’ bears comes out in Animal Welfare!

20 04 2012

The outcome of Jamie (http://stage.web.uoguelph.ca/abw/people/graduate_students/#Dallaire)’s Chinese adventure, and collaboration with the wonderful Animals Asia (http://www.animalsasia.org/), has just come out in Animal Welfare! (vol. 12, pp. 167-176): Activity and enrichment use in disabled Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) rescued from bile farms (JA Dallaire, N Field & GJ Mason).

Check out the abstract below:

Physical disability has the potential to impede the use of environmental enrichments in rehabilitation programmes. We therefore compared the behaviour of 63 disabled and non-disabled socially housed adult Asiatic black bears rescued from bile farms for 103 observation hours. Amputees were less active than non-amputees, spent less time standing, travelled less between different areas of their outdoor enclosure, and showed less frequent stereotypic behaviour. Blind bears also showed low levels of activity and stereo- typic behaviour. Blind bears and male amputees spent less time than non-disabled bears eating food dispersed throughout the enclosure as a foraging enrichment. It is unclear whether their infrequent eating is due to impaired foraging, or to lower energy demands arising from lower activity levels. Blind bears tended to manipulate feeders and other enrichment objects less than sighted bears. Disabled bears did not show any signs of impaired social interactions, and were not competitively displaced from resources by other bears more often than non-disabled bears. Thus, disabled bears rescued from bile farms show deficits in overall activity, with amputees also travelling less around their enclosures and blind bears potentially compromised in some forms of enrichment use. However, it is apparent that they adapt well to the presence of social companions. Several disabled bears also showed a degree of novel behaviour, seemingly compensating for disabilities, suggesting possible avenues for enrichments targeted specifically at these bears. The data also suggest specific hypotheses to test in longitudinal studies of rehabilitation.

Dana and I make everyone’s day at the US-Canada border

19 04 2012

Over the last three days Dana (….) and I have been wrapping up our project at MSU. Dana has been replicating (we hope!) an effect that Maria (…..) found a couple of year ago — that male mink raised with super-enrichment (large complex cages with tunnels, toys, hammocks and running water to wade and splash in) are hotter with the ladies: in a set-up where females can choose who to mate with, they gain more copulations. Dana has been testing the hypotheses that elevated perseveration makes non-enriched males less good at courting (perhaps because their vocalisations are more monotonous or less well modulated by females’ reactions), and that their lowered testosterone reduces their libido. Wrapping up the project involved giving all our females a tonne of enrichments to keep them going a good few weeks, but euthanasing all the males because we need their brains, testes and penis bones. This is always a very sobering process, but I think we do it well. Everyone gets a last supper of their favourite food (mink especially like hot-dogs, perhaps because of their resemblance to human fingers), and animals to be killed are first anaesthetised in their own nestboxes with isoflurane which makes them unconscious in less than a minute. There is no hissing, screaming or scent-spraying — the mink perhaps look puzzled at the strong odour but that’s about it: they just fall asleep on what’s left of their hot dogs. 

Getting our samples back to Guelph was the next challenge. The regular customs folks first of all demanded to know if we were joking; then had a patrol car, lights flashing, escort us to commercial customs where all the truckers check in. UoG had pre-arranged with Fedex to clear us, and when we entered the Fedex office there was an immediate chorus of “Are YOU Dr. Dana?!” and “We have been just dying to meet you all day!”. Our cargo is definitely the wierdest they have had for a long, long while. We told them we were doing research to see if male mink think with their brains or their testicles: a bit unfair on our lovely animals, but it pretty much made their day in that office. 

Mike’s ‘misery kills’ paper is accepted by Animal Welfare.

13 04 2012

Mike had the last tiny revisions to his review paper, ‘Negative affective states and their effects on morbidity, mortality, and longevity’ (M. D. Walker, G. Duggan, N. Roulston, A. Van Slack & G. Mason.), accepted by Animal Welfare! Abstract below. 

Mortality rates are often used in population-level animal welfare assessments because they are assumed to reflect rates of disease or injury and other problems likely to cause poor welfare. High mortality is thus assumed to correlate with factors likely to cause negative affective states. Here we argue that negative affective states are also related to mortality rates more directly, via causal rather than merely correlational routes. In humans, negative affective states predict elevated morbidity and mortality rates as well as decreased longevity, while self reported happiness does the opposite.  This review investigates whether mortality rates and longevity can thus be used to make inferences regarding past affective states in animals.  The proposed mechanism is that chronic stressors cause negative affective states and thence harmful physiological consequences through continual activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal and sympathetic-adreno-medullary axes, which in turn can lead to increased mortality.  The convergent validity of mortality as an indicator of past negative affect is demonstrated via examples of how stressors such as bereavement in humans and social isolation in social non-human species cause negative affective states, and then increase the morbidity of potentially lethal conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS, ultimately leading to increased mortality and reduced longevity in both humans and animals. The potential drawbacks of using mortality rates to infer animal welfare are also discussed, including its low sensitivity and the multiplicity of factors unrelated to affective states that can influence mortality rates.  However, providing these issues are accounted for, it is suggested that this indicator has value in welfare assessment, and is especially well suited for cases where animals are allowed to live out their natural lifespans, such as tends to be the case with zoo and companion animals.

“Scientist meets publisher”

10 04 2012

It’s funny peculiar rather than funny ha ha; but the thing is, it’s peculiar but true.

Many too small boxes and Maru

7 04 2012

Just trying out posting videos on the blog, and who could be a better ‘first’ than Maru?