Slam dunk for otter health!

Sea Otter HoopsTraining animals in zoos is not just about enrichment – although that is certainly a worthy aim. Increasingly, trainers are working with veterinarians to condition animals for medical examinations and even therapy.

The benefits are obvious – being able to undergo diagnostic tests and treatments without the need for sedation and general anaesthesia minimises the potential for iatrogenic harm and builds a bond between the patient and veterinary team. But staff at Oregon Zoo in the United States discovered another benefit when their efforts to assist an aging otter went viral in a public relations coup.

The patient, a 15 year old male neutered southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis), was admitted for a routine veterinary examination last year. Eddie has lived at the zoo since he was abandoned off the California coast as a pup. According to zoo experts, he would not have survived otherwise. Continue reading Slam dunk for otter health!

Vet Ethics: The True Meaning of Welfare

“Bounce”, a healthy and well fed Golden Retriever, has an active and varied life. On most days she is able to leave her sleeping quarters and go for a much-anticipated outing for several hours. She shows much enjoyment and excitement on her daily romps, especially when she meets and plays with other dogs (and people too) – some of whom she has got to know and especially like. She loves to follow a scent, roll about in the dirt, run full pelt through the grass, and wade through water. Her escapades often leave her tired and sore, but she is just as happy to do it all again the next day.

“Loafer” the Labrador has a very different life. From a young age he has been kept in a small enclosure. In fact, he has never been exposed to the sort of activities Bounce looks forward to, and consequently does not miss them. Instead, his savvy owners (who are rarely home) have installed a machine that dispenses tasty food to him on a frequent basis. Actually, Loafer the Lab (unsurprisingly) enjoys eating very much; and his diet is so well formulated he is (surprisingly) not obese. He gets vaccinated and wormed and has ready access to veterinary attention, although he has never been ill. Though he is solitary and sedentary, Loafer seems perfectly content.

Perfectly content he may appear, but does he have a good life? Or is it the reverse: does Loafer’s life go badly for him? If you think it does not go badly, do you nonetheless think that his life is significantly worse than Bounce’s or, if you prefer, that Bounce’s life is significantly better than his?

The reason I am asking these questions is because, like many vets, I am interested in “animal welfare”. But more specifically, I want to know what constitutes good and bad animal welfare. Some people have thought that science is the method we should use to answer these basic questions. So, for example, we could run certain tests and make careful and repeated observations of Loafer and Bounce. Continue reading Vet Ethics: The True Meaning of Welfare

Humans behind bird species’ loss

Further to the results of a study published towards the end of last year that estimated the extinction of 279 bird species and subspecies – principally from islands in the Pacific – had occurred during the last 500 years, more recent research that studied fossil records as well as evidence from mathematical modelling, has found that bird loss in the Pacific region is closer to 1000 species. The results of this study were published in the March issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and they confirm extinctions coincided with humans colonising the region approximately 4000 years ago. The research showed the subsequent disturbance of fragile ecosystems from a combination of deforestation, hunting, and the introduction of invasive species such as cats, rats, and pigs – together with the diseases they carried – drove the decline.

Co-authors of the report, Tim Blackburn, director of the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology, and Richard Duncan, professor in conservation ecology at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology, led the research that widened the earlier study’s scale and extent of the extinctions by incorporating the use of bird fossils to calculate the results. These were collected from 41 remote islands in the eastern Pacific that were among the last to see human habitation. The collected data was used to create a mathematical model that estimated each island’s extinction rates, and showed the islands were once home to a total of 618 populations of 193 nonpasserine landbirds. This comprised 371 populations present at the time of European contact, and 247 populations known only as fossils. Continue reading Humans behind bird species’ loss