Australian Animal Studies Group Conference

The  4th biennial AASG conference was varied and stimulating.

Some of the issues that came up included:

  • swan family

    Swan family at Eagleby wetlands fed by local residents (photo by Araucaria Ecotours)

    research into feeding of ducks, magpies and other birds doe not really support the common idea that feeding birds causes them to be so dependent on humans that they will forget (or just not bother) to gather their own natural food.  Although hand-fed birds eat a slightly lesser proportion of their natural foods than birds that are not fed, the majority of their daily food still comes from natural source4s, even when feeding hungry chicks

  • crows in New Caledonia don’t just use tools but make them and carry them around to different food sources, and research suggest a higher level of understanding of what they are doing than many would expect
  • dogs play a greater role in the deaths of koalas each year than suggested by reports from carers, and there is a general need for more robust record-keeping in relation to koala deaths, rescue and rehabilitation.
  • animal ethics and eco ethics are sometimes in conflict (e.g. what to do about over-populations of kangaroos in some districts) and the solutions are not simple (I’m not sure that I agree with the suggestion pf re-introducing dingos to such areas to solve the problem – not necessarily a kinder end for the kangaroo, I’m not sure that killing animals by releasing a predator is ethically different from killing them directly,  practically I think there would be many objections to this from local residents where the kangaroos are in farming or semi-residential areas,  and the dingo is not strictly native anyway, although it has been in Australia a long time)
  • an experiment on the effects of regular handling on wombats showed the wombats modified their behaviour and were more easily approached, but still showed physiological stress, suggesting they were not really learning to relax and trust the humans so much as learning they couldn’t really do anything about it so it was more energy-efficient to just allow themselves to be approached and handled and get it over with
  • although there has been a lot more discouragement of the feeding of wildlife in Australia for various reasons than in other countries, a very similar proportion of  Australians still do it, probably because of a desire for conection with nature and wildlife in an increasingly urbanized population
  • although the white ibis is seen as a pest in suburbia, most people preferred control methods that did not harm the birds or their nests (e.g. not make the waste they often feed on so accessible)
  • bird and bat strike is a serious problem for aircraft and some countries have introduced monitoring and forecasting systems rather similar to weather forecasting so that pilots have a better chance of not flying into flocks (this is an improvement for both people and birds)
  • an organization called The Brooke gives information to tourists allowing them to make a quick assessment as to whether it is okay to use the horse or donkey transport they are offered in various countries, and to realize that although they should avoid those which mistreat the animals often whole families depend for their livelihood on the service they offer.

I also discovered that the Ship Inn, next to the conference venue in Southbank Parklands, does very tasty meals an include gluten-free and vegan meals, and only uses meat from free-range animals (including pigs – hard to find this in most places) and fish from sustainable harvesting.  They also do great coffee (I usually prefer tea, but their lattes and cappuccinos are great).

Flying foxes in trouble

fruitbat unfolding wingsDarren and I last week rescued a black flying fox from  a bardbed wire fence.  We were not expecting to do a rescue that day  – just happened to see hum as we drove past – so we were not well equipped, and had to ask local residents to supply a towel to throw over her, wire cutters, a pillow slip to put her in etc.

Some folk were very helpful, and we obtained everything necessary.  One just said ‘who cares?’ and another said he’d take a cricket bat to it.

No matter whether it is an animal you want living near you or not ( they are delightful and intelligent creatures, but some people fear them or resent having some of their fruit eaten or just don’t like them for whatever reason) they are animals capable of fear and pain just like any other, and should not be left to suffer.

We have just read that the grey-headed flying foxes (like the one pictured here) in Sydney are encountering more netting than usual in back yards – netting that is placed loosely over fruit trees to deter the bats but often entangle them, and the bats slowly starve if not rescued.

Netting needs to be tight enough that birds and bats cannot possibly tangle in it.

Do NOT try to handle a fruitbat unless you have been vaccinated against rabies, as some of them carry lyssa virus.  Call a bat care society (in southeast Qld: Bat Conservation and Rescue) or RSPCA for help.

100 dogs killed when tour business slumped

This is not wildlife-related but involves the treatment of animals in a tour company in a wilderness setting.

I was astounded to read of the slaughter of 100 huskies when a tour company in Canada had a drop in visitation and therefore profits.  Apparently the vet refused to euthanize 100 healthy dogs, so it was done by guns and one report also says knives. It was apparently not a quick end for all of them, with  at least one  still alive when buried in a mass grave.

The over-riding company says efforts were made to relocate the dogs before the final decision was made, and that they  did not approve the methods used.

Another report says it is common practice for such operations to kill off surplus dogs when business slumps.  To me it would seem hard to have to do this even with sheep or geese, but I would have thought someone had to train all these dogs and develop some kind of relationship with them – did they know while working with them that so many may have to be dispatched while still in their prime?

I find it hard to imagine how so many dogs could be allowed to be accumulated by any business if there was a chance so many might need to be culled, and the method by which it happened seems quite atrocious.

The dogsled tours have been canceled for the moment, but they still offer horse-sled rides. What happens to surplus horses when that side of the business slumps?

Wild animal welfare

black flying foxWhat are the major welfare issues for wild animals (as opposed to conservation issues)?

Here are some examples:

  • Wild animals in captivity – what do they need for a satisfying life that is comfortable, healthy, socially appropriate (e.g. not crowding habitually solitary animals together or  confining gregarious creatures in solitary enclosures) and not consistently boring.
  • How far to interfere with natural processes – generally it is best ecologically  to let predator/prey interactions etc. take their course in wilderness areas, but I have heard of cases where a diseased or injured wild animal was left to suffer greatly for several days rather than interfere with nature and dispatch it, and a shorter period of suffering for an animal that was obviously doomed would not have been a conservation issue.
  • Injured and orphaned wildlife – they may not always be a conservation problem (i.e. many very common species  get bitten by dogs or hit by cars) but as a suffering animal  they need the same kind of attention as a rare species or an injured domestic pet.  What to do with them afterwards can be problematical if there is nowhere obvious to release them (e.g. their homelands have now been cleared of forest and there is no other patch of forest which is not already occupied by others that will defend their territory).
  • Viewing of animals in the wild – how much stress might different species feel in different situations, and how can we minimize actual dangers (such as birds deserting their nestlings in the presence of predators or icy winds, or predators being stopped from hunting)?

Any comments?

Queensland floods

Many thanks  to all those who have contacted us to ask how we’re faring in the floods (I’ve answered each personally as well).

Our house, Wildlife Ecology Centre and nature trails are high enough above the creek not to have been affected (although we did have to dig some extra drains to divert water racing down from Mt Chinghee towards the house), and we always have plenty of stored food.

flooded bridge just upstream from home

A flooded bridge just upstream from home

We’ve had to cancel tours of course, and have been hemmed in by flooded bridges, but otherwise we’re fine.

People in Brisbane and Toowoomba are suffering badly, and so are many animals.  The RSPCA is taking donations to help both domestic and wild animals displaced or injured in the floods. The ABC Floods Emergency site is a good source of information, including ways you can help victims

Another bat stuck in a cocos palm

We had another call today to rescue a bat caught in a cocos palm.  These palms are really bad news for wildlife – it would be good to see them all replaced with bangalow or other native wildlife-friendly palms.

Once again the bat freed himself while we attempted to reach him, but this time with his leg bleeding, so we can only hope the wound was not too serious.