Ninja cats

19 01 2018

Stunning photos from Japan (of course): and

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The agony of frustration?

14 01 2018

One of the papers I read for our ‘cat faces study  was by Holden and colleagues on facial expressions of pain. They found that compared to pain-free cats (left), cats in pain (right) pull their ears to the side (top row; and they also have — see bottom row — bulgy cheeks, a bit like mice in pain).



This made me realise with a lurch that Mouse had been doing the ears thing for years. But what the Holden work didn’t do is include cats in other types of negative affective state. And when Luke, a cat who seriously does not like being thwarted, watches squirrels he cannot chase (left, below), he is definitely doing it too….



But is it art?

13 01 2018

Found on the departmental printer this afternoon:



12 01 2018

I can’t quite decide how this compares with being cited by Your Brain on Porn, but Maria and I were denounced (yes, DENOUNCED!) by Marc Bekoff is this inflammatory piece just before Christmas.

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Marc writes, “Welfarism puts human needs first, and tries to accommodate animals within the “human needs first” framework. Well-being [in contrast] broadens the question of “what do animals want and need” beyond the welfare box, and tries to understand animal preferences from the animals’ point of view. For example, welfarism asks whether mink on a fur farm would prefer taller or shorter cages; well-being challenges the idea mink should be in battery cages on a fur farm in the first place.”

That is literally our work! And my response? Yes I ‘get’ the misgivings, but if you don’t do such research and mink farming keeps going, then you’re leaving animals in worse cages than they need to live in. Is that really the right thing to do??

Plus ironically, in many ways Marc’s a fan of welfare research.  When he writes about elephants dying prematurely in zoos, that work was led by an animal welfare scientist (me!); when he argues that 40% of zoo elephants show stereotypic behavior, who collected and analysed those data?  And who were the researchers he was so pleased found evidence of empathy in chickens, and signs of boredom in caged mink? Yep, all welfare scientists.  So it is pretty useful, our work, isn’t it? Not just disgusting apologism!  (I had a great email exchange with him about this actually, and all’s good).

Yet more monkeys

12 01 2018

After spotting an error and as a consequence getting yet more data from California, Andrea can report that her final database contains a cool 5, 770 animals. Not bad eh?

We hate your paper, but we’ll probably accept it

11 01 2018

Two papers from the lab came back from journals in the last month, both with fairly harsh editors’ letters.  “Thus, I must reject your manuscript”, intoned the one from Animal Behaviour, while “The reviewers raised some major concerns” tutted the one from Physiology and Behaviour

Yet both allowed re-submission, and in both cases the referees’ comments were easy to address (sensible, helpful, and mainly stylistic).  This type of presentation of ‘minor revisions’ as ‘major revisions’ or even rejection seems increasingly common. And it’s disheartening for possibly judgement-biased students, who dwell on the critical wording of the letter rather than the often-quite-easy tasks set within it (Andrea was convinced this was one for our anti-CVs!).  But really, in the end it’ll be good news for us I think.

Birds using fire as a tool?

10 01 2018

Reports have built up over millennia, in the oral history of aboriginal people and more recently too, that Australian birds of prey exploit the way that bush fires flush out prey, by deliberately spreading it!

These incredible accounts have now been collated and analysed in the Journal of Ethnobiology  Here is a write up in National Geographic, and here’s a video by New Scientist.