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).

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