November 25, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: General


The 3 Rs; The 5 Freedoms: Law: Normal behaviour: Animal rights: Stress & distress
By Dr Clive Dalton

The three R's
  • The history of animals used in research and teaching is littered with horror stories and images from the past, and this has led to a drive to reduce animal use - by what is called the three R‘s.
  • They are Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. Research is now charged with a range of things to meet these three R‘s- for example:
  • Using demonstrations instead of hands-on work with animals.
  • Using models instead of real animal tissues.
  • Using computer simulation.
  • Using tissue culture.
  • Using closed circuit television to show a procedure to more students.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999
  • The updating of the Animal Welfare Act in 1999 gave a wider definition of "the animal" which now covers all vertebrates i.e. fish and the invertebrate crayfish.
  • There was a big change in emphasis from "prosecution" to "education" and the word "cruelty" was removed and "distress' given emphasis.
  • Codes of Recommendation and Minimum Standards" were produced to give the details relevant for each species of animal (e.g. cattle, sheep, bobby calves) and for painful manipulations (e.g. removing antler velvet from stags).
  • A key factor in the Act was the emphasis given to the "five freedoms" which are now recognised internationally as the foundation of all animal welfare thinking. And the other big emphasis was to base the animal's needs on what was "good practice and scientific knowledge".
  • Professor Brambell in UK in 1967 developed the five freedoms and you'll find them written in various orders in different publications. The order below is written to make them easier to remember by learning the code letters.
The five freedoms:
  • 1. Freedom from hunger and thirst (HT)
  • 2. Freedom from discomfort (D)
  • 3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease (PID)
  • 4. Freedom from fear and distress (FD)
  • 5. Freedom to express "normal" behaviour (NB)

What is "normal" behaviour?
  • This can be a very contentious issue and it's often easier to define what "abnormal" behaviour is. There's room for a lot of personal opinion both informed and not informed, and a great deal of anthropomorphism (see later).
  • But there is no doubt that normal behaviour has got to be the baseline for decision making.
General needs for normal behaviour:
  • Social contact
  • Food and water
  • Warmth
  • Ventilation
  • Space
  • Opportunities to play
  • Opportunity for courtship and mating
  • This is a term coined by UK Animal Rights campaigner Richard Ryder and is a concept developed by Professor Peter Singer from Monash University in Victoria in his book "Animal Liberation".
  • It is defined as "A prejudice or attitude of bias toward the interests of members of one's own species and against those members of other species". In practice it means you have to treat all animals using the same standards.
  • The best example are animals classed as "vermin" as they must be given the same humane treatment (e.g. when exterminating them) as farm animals and pets.

Genetics and Environment - nature versus nurture

  • When investigating an animal behaviour problem, you will regularly be faced with the question - is the problem caused by the animal's genetic makeup, the environment in which it was reared and managed, or a bit of both? Usually it's the latter - a bit of both.
  • We know the effect of the environment (e.g. early socialisation, feeding etc) is massive on the final outcome, but recent work from twin studied shows just how strong genetics are.
  • A good example is dog breeds selected for aggression - but are very friendly to their owners who swear they would never attack anyone! Their killer genes come out when their owners are not present and these dogs think that they or their territory are being threatened.
  • Professor Gluckman in Auckland is leading a team studying EPIGENETICS where they have found that the many genes controlling a trait in humans like early growth and development, do not so much as determine what is expressed, as allow for a range of possibilities determined by the environment experienced.
  • Because the environment is always changing, the hallmark of biological systems is their ability to cope with these changes.
  • They do this by switches which can turn the genes finally expressed either ON or OFF depending on environmental factors with most influence during embryonic, foetal and early infant life by environmental factors such as maternal health, nutrition and stress. Epigenetics is studying how these switches work.
  • This is where you use human emotions and feelings to describe the behaviour of animals. Is it not a good thing if it ends up providing animals with what you think they would like if you were in their place?
  • But it can be dangerous from a professional viewpoint and there is the risk of coming to a wrong conclusion over issues when being anthropomorphic and forgetting that animals are animals.
  • Problems experienced by dog owners who forget that their dogs are dogs are a prime example. Both they and their dogs are confused!

Animals Rights - Do animals have rights?
  • This is a common and valid quesiton.
  • The moral position argues that animals have certain rights the same way humans have rights, and these must not be broken. The end result of this is that animals should never be exploited for human gain.
  • Another view is that animals cannot claim the same rights as humans, but they have the right to be treated well by those who tend them. In practical terms they have the right to the Five Freedoms. You can see the dangers of getting anthropomorphic over this question.
Do animals have souls?
  • You may also have to face the question.
  • Your response will depend greatly on your religious views or lack of them.
  • If you believe animals do have souls, you could then argue that they do have rights similar to humans.
  • The great apes for example have recently experienced an enormous improved change in human attitudes to their rights, with DNA studies confirming their similarity to humans.
  • So if they are that near to humans, do they have souls too?
  • The animal cremation services get a lot of business from people who believe their pets have souls and deserves the same dignity that humans have a right to.
Stress and distress
  • Some "stress" is valuable for good performance and survival, but too much turns into "distress" which has a bad effect on the animal.
  • Behaviourists don't like the word stress and prefer distress. This is probably a bit academic but it's due to concern over definitions.
  • From a practical point of view what stress does is to increase the "arousal" of the animal. Again some stress is good (e.g. to move stock) and some is bad (e.g. when they panic and bolt).
Arousal - things that increase it
  • Isolation from mates or members of same species.
  • Separation from owner.
  • Decrease personal space.
  • Lack of food and water.
  • No shade or shelter.
  • Novelty - something strange in the environment.
  • Threats - something seen as a threat (eg human and animal).
  • Aversive things - eg electric shocks.
  • Noise - high pitched.
  • High light intensity - especially poultry.
  • Increased cold - especially pigs.
Arousal - things that decrease it?
  • Provide company.
  • Increase personal space.
  • Provide plenty of food and water.
  • A warm well-ventilated environment.
  • Provide shade and shelter.
  • Low frequently sound.
  • Talk to the animals - in low tones.
  • Low light levels.
  • Change colour of light.
  • Remove aversions and perceived threats.

Signs of fear in animals
  • Vigorous tail flicking
  • Spasmodic body shivering
  • Head shaking
  • Eyelid flickering
  • Salivating
  • Head retraction
  • Diarrhoea/urinating
  • Eye closure
  • Nostril flaring
  • White's of eyes showing
Cost of excess arousal - stress
This is what can result from unduly stressing animals:
  • Poor stock performance.
  • Increased ACC levies.
  • Greater disease incidence.
  • Deaths and family trauma.
  • Accidents to staff - major and minor.
  • Damage to property.
  • Staff time off work and cost of replacement.
  • Risk of fines from OSH
Social organisation in animals
Understanding the social behavior of animals is vital in problem solving. Here are some general principles - too often taken for granted:
  • Animals are social creatures - they enjoy and may crave for the company of their own kind.
  • Group living has big advantages for the animal:
  • It allows protection against predators - allows group defence
  • Provides cooperation in food gathering.
  • Mates are easier to find.
  • Allows synchrony of mating, birth and rearing of offspring.
  • Solitary living has advantages when food is very scarce.
  • Animals have rules - they help survival and peace in the group.
  • Humans need to remember this! They cause the problem by confusing the rules.
  • Animals need space - their own private space.
  • They need mental stimulation - and the group provides this.
  • They like predictability - but sometimes they thrive on unpredictability (eg the chance of a fight for the top position).
  • At certain times of the year males are solitary.
  • When males are reared or farmed in groups they can be homosexual and may need to learn to live and mate with females.
  • Animals organise their social behaviour into hierarchies.
  • We talk about the "peck order" in birds, the "bunt order" in cattle, because this is the way they sort themselves out.
  • These hierarchies can be stable or they can be fluid - depending on a whole lot of things:
  • Food supply - if plenty of food, there's no need to fight.
  • Size - a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un.
  • Sexual prowess - testosterone is a guaranteed winner.
  • Cunning - the young males who fools the old male.
  • Ego - my harem's bigger than yours.
  • Top of the hierarchy is an alpha male who at least thinks he's the boss.
  • In many cases an alpha female below him is the real boss - but she lets him act as if he was the leader.
  • The alpha female has enormous power (especially over the young males) and will fight hard to keep her status.
  • It's in the interest of the alpha male to make sure she keeps her job, so he will keep his too.
  • His worry is when she takes a dislike to him and sees a better prospect.
  • There is a constant state of young males looking for the inside chance to be alpha male.
  • Fights that cause injury or death are against the survival of the group and are generally avoided. But when the issue is really important with genetic and survival implications - fights to the death if necessary will take place.
Are animals intelligent?
  • This is another question behaviourists dislike as answering it risks anthropomorphism. "Can animals learn" is a lot safer question and the answer is clearly YES. So this leads on to the question of "does an ability to learn prove intelligence"?
  • Animals certainly remember and we get into a lot of trouble by forgetting this fact. They remember their first experience very well so it's a good idea to ensure this is not a big negative one.
  • Remembering is a survival trait for example where animals eat poison once and remember being ill. They are never keen to repeat the event and become "bait shy".
  • Professor Brambell argued that "play" is a good guide to the general intelligence level of a species.
Can animals think?
  • Animals cannot think in abstract terms - they cannot ponder the past or make plans for the future.
  • If you see them appearing to think, it's more likely to be an "innate" behaviour than the result of logical decision-making. Animals have no notion or morality or right or wrong.
  • They cannot understand the notion of a "rule". They can be taught rules by the techniques below.

No comments:

Post a Comment