How to spot a happy Harris hawk

22 06 2013

Catching up on my “backblog” for April… Ian Duncan and I spoke at the “Animal Behavior Management Alliance” (ABMA) meeting in the middle of this month, in Toronto. The ABMA is for zoo keepers and wild animal trainers who want to keep on learning about animal learning, and also animal welfare.


Although this was the worst-organised thing I have ever been involved with as a speaker EVER (e.g. we ran a workshop, yet aren’t even listed on the conference website), and had both of us in various states of apoplexy/”That’s IT, I’m pulling OUT” in the run up, the day itself was a lot of fun.

We got all these skillful “animal people” to think hard about which species/stages of development they believe are sentient, and why. Candies were handed out for good answers (the group identifying lawyers as beings without conscious emotions won a pile). We then got them to identify what they see as indicators of positive or negative emotion in the species they know best (e.g. Harris hawks: when happy, preens, fluffs up, adopts a relaxed posture on glove; negative emotions – raises hackles, tries to fly away, screams), and again, to think about why they think this. All proved very keen observers of how animals respond when faced with stimuli they want to approach, and circumstances they want to avoid: essentially the same process that welfare scientists go through when validating indicators of affect.

The hubbub of 200 passionate people debating these issues and imitating the animals they know so well was truly a splendid sound.