Patrick Bateson

11 08 2017

Screenshot 2017-08-11 11.15.27My former PhD supervisor Pat died last week. He was 79, and had had a heart condition for a while. But he had remained so incredibly intellectually active (writing books and papers, and being involved in Royal Society activities), that I always assumed I’d see him again at some meeting or other. So, it hit me hard.

As an actual PhD advisor, he was frankly over-stretched: Paul Martin had just left Madingley to become a spy (or so the legend went), leaving Pat with 14 students to look after. And with me doing my own project (on, guess what? – stereotypic behaviours of course, first aspiring to work on zoo animals, then using mink as a model), I was basically left feral: quite alarming (although ultimately good for me). My scattered memories of him from that time include that, absurdly, it took me well over a year to call him “Pat” like everyone else (I’d been in his undergrad classes the year before, and in that context he was most definitely “Professor Bateson”); how supportive and kind he was (e.g. coming out to visit the mink farm when I first contacted the farmer, and bowling them over with charm); his great advice when I was (ridiculously) worried about sharing ideas (“If you work with your office door open, more comes in that goes out”); and getting introduced to his wonderful daughter Melissa.

But it was really in the years since then that he became more important as a friend and colleague. It’s not just that he was an intelligent, left-wing, atheist cat-lover (what’s not to love about that?), nor that he was always supportive and enthusiastic. We shared interests in play and the effects of early experience (I just had a flashback to the IEC in Rennes, where he was appalled to discover that outdoor-reared piglets often end up in indoor intensive systems, and another to the IEC in Newcastle where he was enthusiastic and lovely with my student Jamie). He also became really interested in the scientific study of animal welfare. He did great work, for example, on the hunting of deer, on cost benefit assessments for research animals, and on pedigree dogs’ health issues.  And I always loved watching him in action as Chair of the ZSL Animal Welfare Committee: he was so adept.  I really am very, very lucky to have had him as a mentor, and still can’t quite believe he has gone.

The Hen Whisperer

10 08 2017

Summer student Anna Garland has done a great job these last couple of months training 12 hens (half from control environments, half from enriched) to learn that a white lidded dish meant mealworms (so, they should flip it for a treat), but a black-lidded dish would, if touched, trigger a nasty airpuff.  The hens were trained in a box, and monitored by video, with the dishes being slid in via a slot, all designed to avoid Clever Hans effects. Most hens reached criterion in under 5 days (with around 20 trials a day), making our previous failures with mice and mink look even more pathetic. Some also developed fascinating superstitious responses to the black dish, retreating to a corner, facing away from it or even freezing stock still, as if to avoid being even tempted to touch it.

Once trained, the real aim of the work could start: to present them with intermediate dishes — Shades of Grey (couldn’t resist it) — to see whether they’d be “optimistic” and flip them or “pessimistic” (avoiding them), and in turn whether this judgement bias would be affected by housing. Because we already know our enriched hens are in positive states thanks to the resources they have, a housing effect in the expected direction would validate this novel judgment bias task for poultry (Misha’s Bristol attempts being another noble failure).

Though a bit too early to peek, as Misha another 12 hens to go, Anna had a to make a poster for her summer research course, which forced us to analyse the data. And so far there is a trend, with enriched birds tending to positive-skewed biases….

1Garland Final Presentation

Fame for Lukey!

9 08 2017

Luke‘s younger self (I’m guessing captured by Carole) is one of the ISAE webpages’ banner pics!

Screen Shot 2017-08-09 at 5.19.55 PM

Mouse is very old

25 07 2017

Mouse (the cat) turned 21 earlier this month.  The Purina ‘cat age calculator‘ doesn’t even go this high, but it’s probably as though she’s about 96. She does still purr, though not every day any more; and she still comes upstairs for a her midday tipple of catnip, though only once a week or so now.  Her birth certificate (shared with Sophie) was drawn by one of Tim Halliday‘s daughters. (The Halliday family owned her mother; at a party at their house in 1996, Tim suddenly barked “Anyone want any half Abyssinian kittens?”, and the rest is history).

IMG_4389 (1)

Congratulations to Lauren!

11 07 2017

Lauren has now surveyed every mink farm in Ontario that uses enrichments!!!

Helpful mouse

5 07 2017



From Carole, who thinks this mouse (“v interested in the donkey research paper I read on the grass”) is replacing the cardinal who used to watch her and Maria through their office window.

I’ve got to say though, a mouse out in the daytime is just not right… so, personally, helpful cats make me more comfortable.

Postcard from Oregon

4 07 2017

Andrea spent last week on the west coast, first in Portland visiting Kris Coleman and Daniel Gottlieb (as well as having dinner with my favourite, well possibly my only, academic grandson Brett Dufour), before flying to Davis to liaise with co-advisor Brenda McCowan (and also have lunch with Jamie at nearby Palo Alto).

The aim? To start designing her PhD project on rhesus macaque welfare, which has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of our UFAW RTS grant. And I suspect the prospect of analysing data from over 4000 animals is making her salivate…

Screenshot 2017-07-04 17.32.35