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Calls for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets

Calls for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets

Investigation reveals venemous species are easy to buy, but difficult to look after or find veterinary treatment

Animal welfare experts are calling for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets, after an investigation by Vet Record revealed that several species of lethal and venomous snakes can be bought easily through UK pet shops.

The investigation showed that several dangerous species, including vipers, cobras and rattlesnakes, can be sold in the UK without the buyer having a licence. It also revealed that dangerous snakes are difficult for their owners to manage at home, and that few vets have the insurance or relevant experience to treat them.

It is currently legal to sell venomous snakes to people who don't have a licence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act; the legal responsibility lies with the buyer to have attained a Dangerous Wild Animals (DWA) licence from their local authority.

According to the animal welfare charity RSPCA, councils may occasionally use DWA licences retrospectively, which enables collectors to buy venomous snakes before they get a licence. Peter Kettlewell, president of the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS), also points out  that there are no legal controls when venomous snakes are bought in EU countries and brought back into the UK.  

Speaking to Vet Record, Mr Kettlewell said: “Pet shops are currently excluded from the requirements of the DWA  Act and are therefore able to keep dangerous species without a DWA licence. BVZS strongly believes the legislation should be changed to prevent this.”

He also said that the BVZS is concerned about the welfare of these animals once in private ownership:

“The husbandry of reptiles is challenging, and even commonly kept reptile species kept in people's homes are given inadequate care – as shown by the high proportion of reptiles presented to veterinary practices with husbandry-related diseases,” he said.

“Providing good husbandry would be made more difficult in the case of venomous animals due to the challenges in handling and managing them safely. BVZS believes that both the keeping of dangerous species by private individuals is likely to compromise both animal welfare and human safety, and as such, the selling of such species to private individuals should be carefully regulated and restricted.”

The RSPCA told Vet Record that it is “deeply concerned” by the amount of venomous snakes being kept as pets, adding that the DWA is “weakly drafted and poorly enforced”.

When Vet Record asked vets if they would be prepared to treat a venomous snake, many said they wouldn't, citing health and safety concerns and insufficient access to antivenom.

Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation

Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation

Non-invasive sampling enhances reptile conservation

A black-and-white dog sits in the desert, concentrating on the tracks of lizards. Seamus, a trained detection dog, alerts his handler to the presence of excrement.

Trained conservation dogs have been used to locate faeces and collect DNA samples for everything from bears and foxes to gorillas and whales. But the technique had not been used for reptiles until recently when scientists developed a novel approach to identify the presence of the blunt-nosed leopard lizard in the Panoche Hills Recreation Area and Carrizo Plain National Monument in the USA.

They have developed new methods to recover DNA from faeces and genetically identify lizard species in the same area; and their study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, is a proof of concept for a host of reptiles.

The researchers claim that detection dogs trained to sniff out the faeces of endangered lizards – combined with genetic species identification – could represent a new, non-invasive sampling technique for lizard conservation worldwide.

Current methods for surveying lizard species typically rely on live capture or visual surveys. Excrement sampling allows biologists to study elusive, rare or dangerous animals without the need for direct contact. In addition to informing about the presence, habitat and genetics of an animal, faeces can also be analysed to inform researchers about diet, hormones, parasites and other health factors.

Using the new method, the authors genetically identified specific species for 78 per cent of the 327 samples collected by dog-handler teams across four years. Most (82%) of those identified were confirmed as being from blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

To meet regulatory monitoring requirements, more research is needed to assess the viability of using detection dogs to recover usable DNA on a larger scale. But the research highlights the broad potential this method holds for surveying and monitoring reptiles.

The study from the University of California, Davis, was published in partnership with the non-profit Working Dogs for Conservation, US Geological Survey and the US Bureau of Land Management, which organisation also funded the work.

Exotics vets treat 61-year-old tortoise for bladder stones

Exotics vets treat 61-year-old tortoise for bladder stones

Team removed stones without having to cut through the shell

Exotics vets in the US are reiterating the importance of annual check-ups after successfully treating a 61-year-old tortoise for a recurrence of bladder stones.


Desert tortoise Mohave was presented to the UC Davis Veterinary Hospital after his caretakers noticed that his urates had become thick and pasty. He subsequently suffered a cloacal prolapse, most likely caused by straining to eliminate the pasty urates.

Veterinary surgeon Juliana Sorem from Wildcare - a wildlife hospital and Mohave’s home since 2003 - took radiographs and noticed some distinct white shapes within his abdomen.

“We compared the images with the radiographs taken at his last routine physical and didn’t see these objects on them,” she said. “Given his clinical signs and the radiographic images, I was fairly certain the stones had recurred.”


Mohave was referred to the exotics team at UC Davis Veterinary Hospital, who had successfully removed bladder stones from Mohave in the past, without having to cut into his shell.

Faculty member Dr David Guzman and resident Dr Sarah Ozawa were able to remove the stones via an endoscopic-assisted procedure - a minimally invasive technique that allows clinicians to access the bladder through the prefemoral fossa in front of the hind limb, instead of cutting through the shell.


The team said that owing to Mohave’s regular care and annual check-ups, the stones were caught early enough to be removed in this way. Dr Guzman warns that if stones go unchecked for too long, they can grow so large that it may be complicated or impossible to be removed through a minimally invasive approach.


“If we have to enter through the plastron, it’s very invasive,” said Dr Guzman. “It takes a long time to heal, and sometimes it fails to heal properly. So, Mohave’s case is a great example of the importance of annual check-ups for any animal.”


Mohave’s case is detailed in a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Image (C) UC Davis Veterinry Hospital.

Labour announces plans to ban pet primates

Labour announces plans to ban pet primates

Measure forms part of party’s new Animal Welfare Manifesto

The Labour Party has announced plans to ban the keeping and trading of pet primates if it forms the next government.

Labour said it would implement a “total ban” on the keeping of marmosets, capuchins, squirrel monkeys and lemurs as part of its new Animal Welfare Manifesto, to be published later this month.

Figures published by the party show an estimated 5,000 primates are being kept as pets in the UK. Labour said they are often kept in cages and “denied proper lighting and nutrition causing painful and debilitating diseases such as metabolic bone disease”.

Labour also said that monkeys are “regularly taken away from their mothers at a young age and kept in isolation, becoming depressed and displaying behaviour such as self-mutilation, hair pulling and rocking back and forth.”

The proposed legislation is already in place in Belgium and several other European countries.

Labour’s Shadow environment minister, Luke Pollard said: “It is astonishing that it is still entirely legal to keep primates as pets, regardless of how endangered or dangerous the animal is. Anyone can browse the internet and buy a primate with little or no checks and inspections.

“We know that primates are very intelligent, social animals with complex needs that simply cannot be met in a home environment. Labour will ban people from keeping pet primates as part of our plans to bring Britain’s animal welfare laws into the 21st Century.”

Labour added that rescue groups such as the RSPCA and Wild Futures receive approximately one call a week relating to the welfare of a captive monkey.

Microchip reminder after giant tortoise found wandering through field

Microchip reminder after giant tortoise found wandering through field

Finder hauled the enormous animal home in a wheelbarrow

Pet owners are being reminded to ensure their animals are microchipped after a giant sulcata tortoise was found wandering through a field in Hertfordshire.

The tortoise was found by a woman out walking her dog and had to be hauled home in a wheelbarrow owing to its enormous size.

RSPCA animal collection officer Kate Wright, who was called out to the incident, discovered the tortoise wasn’t microchipped. The incident is one of 952 involving tortoises reported to the charity each year. 

“We’d always encourage tortoise owners to get their pets microchipped and to ensure they are kept in a secure enclosure,” Kate added. “While many people think of tortoises as being slow they’re actually quite active and can move at quite a pace when they want to.

“Tortoises also climb, dig and can push their way through barriers so can be good escape artists. We receive almost 1,000 calls every year about tortoises, many of which have escaped from their homes and gone on the run!”

The sulcata tortoise - which can weigh more than 100kg and grow to be up to 80cm long - was eventually reunited with his owner who was advised to get him microchipped.

RSPCA senior scientific officer in exotics and wildlife trade Dr Stephanie Jayson said: “We hear stories like these all too often and our officers are regularly called to collect stray tortoises and escaped pets.

“Tortoise owners often let their pets out in the garden during the summer weather and tortoises can become very active in the warm temperatures and sunshine. It’s really important that owners keep a close eye on their pets when outside or have a secure run to keep them in to keep them safe from other animals, and to ensure they can’t escape.”

Image (C) RSPCA.

Odours 'can evoke positive emotions' in rats

Odours 'can evoke positive emotions' in rats

Research finds rats can learn to link smells with positive experiences 

Odours can be used to evoke a positive emotional state in animals, a new study of rats suggests.

An international research team found that rats can learn to associate a neutral odour with a positive experience. Their findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Rats emit high pitched ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs), which are similar to laughter, when they are happy. This is used to measure their ‘enjoyment’ of being tickled.

Scientists discovered that rats exposed to a neutral odour emitted more USVs when they were subsequently exposed to the same smell without being tickled.

“This suggests that the odour is now able to produce a positive emotional state in the rats and has a number of potential applications, including the use of positive odour conditioning to ameliorate stress in domestic animals,” said Alistair Lawrence, chair of animal behaviour and welfare at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and the University of Edinburgh.

He added: “For example, if an animal has to go through a stressful procedure, it could be presented with an odour that it had previously associated with a pleasant context.”

Two groups of rats were exposed to different different neutral odours (A and B). Researchers then measured the USVs produced by the group of rats being tickled and the control group. Tickled rats produced significantly more USVs on the days that they were tickled, and compared to the control rats.

Both groups were then exposed to three odours, an unknown neutral odour, extract of fox faeces, and either odours A or B. Tickled rats emitted more USVs when they were exposed to the odour they had already been exposed to when tickled.

Vincent Bombail, research scientist at the National de la Recherche Agronomique, said: “This is a novel method for positive/appetitive conditioning without the use of drug or food rewards. It is a fascinating foray into the world of positive emotions, which was enjoyable for the rats, as well as all the experimenters involved.”

Vigilance urged following reports of Seoul virus

Vigilance urged following reports of Seoul virus

Disease identified at pig farms in northern England

Public health officials are urging vets to be vigilant for the signs and symptoms of Seoul hantavirus (SEOV), after a study published in Vet Record (Vol 184 No 17) found the disease may be widespread in British wild rats.

Researchers identified infected rats on or near pig farms in Yorkshire and Cheshire, suggesting that SEOV may be widespread among wild rat populations in the UK. Furthermore, the SEOV strains identified in this study were found to be genetically similar to those detected in mainland Europe.

Writing in Vet Record, Jacqueline M. Duggan from Public Health England said that while the extent of SEOV transmission is not yet known, it would be ‘advantageous’ for those working with rats to be aware of the symptoms.

‘This would facilitate prompt diagnosis of hantavirus infection, thereby improving the outcome of the infected individual,’ she said.

SEOV is transmitted from wild brown rats to people via direct contact with rat excreta, such as urine, faces and saliva. Contact with rat bedding and feedstuff that are contaminated with dried rat excreta can also spread the disease.

Symptoms of SEOV in humans include headache, fever, backache, nausea and dizziness. In some people, the disease can progress to acute kidney injury requiring dialysis.

Duggan notes that while the public health risk carried by wild rats is yet to be determined, there is a known risk of infection from pet rats.

In a recent study, 34 per cent of rat owners who were tested had hantavirus-specific antibodies. Moreover, all but one of the 15 cases causing acute kidney injury since 2012 have been in people with direct exposure to pet rats or feeder rats bred on farms.

Duggan notes that chances of infection can be reduced by thoroughly washing hands and removing any clothing that might have come into contact with rat excreta. 

ITV show prompts animal welfare complaints from vets

ITV show prompts animal welfare complaints from vets

BVA calls for vet to be on set for UK ‘I’m a Celebrity

The BVA has sent an open letter to the producers of ITV’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, raising concerns about poor animal welfare on the UK version of the show.

BVA said its members had reported particular concerns about an episode that aired in November 2018, in which snakes showed clear signs of distress when contestant Emily Atack placed her hand into their box. One of the snakes was then flung onto the floor.

Animal charity Wild Welfare also wrote to ITV Studios last year to highlight concerns about the task. BVA said there have been a number of well-documented animal welfare complaints, reported to television regulators year after year.

In separate episode last year, BVA said there were clear signs of distress from a variety of animals, during a task that saw Harry Redknapp crawling through small containers filled with bearded dragons, snakes and a crocodile.

Exotics vet Daniella Dos Santos, who is junior vice president of the BVA, said: “It’s deeply worrying to see so many instances over the years where animals on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here are showing negative behaviour associated with distress and even times when mistreatment occurs.

“ITV may see this show as a jewel in its crown, but that must go hand in hand with setting a good example around the treatment of animals to the millions of people who tune in time and again.”
 
In an open letter to the producers, BVA asked if a vet is present on set and if the production team are aware of the five welfare needs. BVA said it does not believe the incidents above display compliance with animal welfare legislation.

The letter reads: ‘A decade on from your episode featuring a contestant killing and eating a rat (without any visible slaughter expertise), we remain concerned that animals’ needs are not being met during the production of this show and they are often being harmed in the interests of sensationalism and lowbrow entertainment.’

BVA has offered to work with producers to advise on the use of animals in the upcoming 2019 series.

ITV has been contacted for comment.

Exotics vet performs intricate surgery on goldfish

Exotics vet performs intricate surgery on goldfish

Thirty-minute surgery carried out to remove tumour on jaw 

An exotics vet based in Swindon has performed intricate surgery to remove a tumour from a goldfish’s jaw.

Six-year-old fish Eric (not pictured) was taken to the Great Western Exotics practice by his devoted owner Katja Serrer-Fort.

Dr Tariq Abou-Zahr anaesthetised Eric and performed the painstaking 30-minute surgery.

He explained: “We put a tube into the fish’s mouth to deliver oxygenated water and anaesthetic over the fish’s gills to keep it asleep.

“Clearly, a very small creature like this won’t have a lot of blood in its system so we had to keep the blood loss to an absolute minimum. We used electronic forceps to control the fish’s blood loss during the operation. We were very pleased with the results of the procedure.”

Eric is a long oranda goldfish, a breed that has a bubble-type hood on its head called a wen. In Eric’s case, the wen had grown over his eyes blocking his sight. During the surgery to remove his tumour, Dr Abou-Zahr also trimmed back the wen to help Eric to see again.

Dr Abou-Zahr said it was a very unusual case. He has operated on only three or four goldfish in the course of his career.

Eric was able to return home as soon as the anaesthetic had worn off. The tumour was sent to pathology, which confirmed the it was non-malignant.

Commenting after the surgery, Katja said: “I know people might think this is a lot of trouble to go to for a goldfish. But I don’t see it that way. If you had a dog or a cat then they would be part of your family. Well, it’s the same with Eric.

“We’ve had him for six years. He’s part of our family and I wanted to do everything I could to keep him alive and help his quality of life.”

Image by Lawrencekhoo/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0
 

Fish appear to recognise themselves in the mirror

Fish appear to recognise themselves in the mirror

Study raises questions about how scientists test self-awareness in animals

Fish appear to be able to recognise themselves in the mirror, according to new research.

The study, published in PLOS Biology, observed cleaner wrasse fish responding to their reflection and attempting to remove coloured marks on their body.

The finding suggests that fish have higher cognitive abilities than first thought and has sparked questions about how scientists test self-awareness in animals that are so dissimilar to humans.

The research was carried out by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, the University of Konstanz and Osaka City University.

“The behaviours we observe leave little doubt that this fish behaviourally fulfils all criteria of the mirror test as originally laid out,” explained Alex Jordan, principal investigator at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz.

“What is less clear is whether these behaviours should be considered as evidence that fish are self-aware - even though in the past these same behaviours have been interpreted as self-awareness in so many other animals.”

In the study, scientists placed a coloured mark on fish in an area that could only be viewed in a mirror. To gain a ‘pass,’ the fish needed to touch or investigate their mark, showing an awareness of the reflected image.

The researchers witnessed the fish attempting to remove the marks by rubbing their bodies on hard surfaces after looking at themselves in the mirror.

The fish did not attempt to remove transparent marks in the presence of a mirror, nor did they attempt to remove the coloured marks when no mirror was present. This suggests that the fish were responding to the visual cue of seeing the mark on themselves in the mirror.

To the authors of the study, the results present clear evidence of behaviours that appear to pass every phase of the classic mirror test. What is not yet clear, however, is whether the evidence shows that fish possess self-awareness.

“Personally, I find the most parsimonious interpretation to be that these fish do pass the test as given, but this doesn’t mean they are self-aware,” Alex continued. “Rather they come to recognise the reflection as a representation of their own bodies without the involvement of self-consciousness.

“Given this, we should critically evaluate whether the mark test remains the gold-standard for awareness testing in animals.”

Image (C) Max Planck Institute/S.Gingins.

Snakes need space to fully stretch their bodies - study

Snakes need space to fully stretch their bodies - study

Researchers observe snake behaviour at eight UK zoos

New research has concluded that snakes should not be confined to enclosures that prevent them from fully stretching their bodies.

The study, published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, conducted research at eight UK zoos and reviewed around 100 publications on snake welfare, biology and caging.

During 60-minute observation periods at the zoos, researchers observed 37 per cent of snakes adopting straight or near-straight-line postures. The authors conclude that such behaviour confirms that snakes do utilise and need considerable space as part of their normal lifestyles.

‘Spatial deprivations routinely imposed on snakes would be unacceptable for any other vertebrate species, and while larger enclosures may represent significant inconveniences for many snake breeders and keepers, current common approaches to accommodation for many snakes are scientifically and ethically unjustifiable,’ the authors write.

‘Other than for short-term confinement such as clinical or essential transportation purposes snakes should not be held in enclosures with dimensions that do not permit these animals to fully extend their bodies, including both horizontally and vertically where semi-arboreal or arboreal species are involved.’

The study comes four months after new animal welfare licensing regulations came into force covering the sale of pet snakes. The legislation was compiled by stakeholders who agreed snakes should be kept in containers at least the length of their bodies.

But while the provision had been included in the draft guidelines for almost a year, it was reportedly pulled following a complaint made by a veterinary clinic associated with the pet trade. Leading veterinary surgeons, biologists and animal welfare organisations highly criticised the move and issued a call for the rule to be reinstated.

“The findings of this study will come as no surprise to advanced herpetologists, zoo managers, veterinarians or conscientious keepers familiar with snake biological and husbandry needs - not least given that many already practice or surpass the minimal standards that we recommend,” said Clifford Warwick, reptile biologist and lead author of the study. “For decades, caged snakes have literally had almost no room to move - now there should be no room for such abuse.”

Elaine Toland, director of the Animal Protection Agency, adds: "The APA has long argued that snakes, like any other animals, need to fully stretch their bodies for their wellbeing. The tired old claims by those who peddle and keep snakes that these animals do not need spacious environments as an essential component of their welfare have been fully put to rest by this study.”

Study reveals extent of chelonian extinction crisis

Study reveals extent of chelonian extinction crisis

Researchers call for greater conservation efforts

More than 56 per cent of all known turtle and tortoise species are facing extinction, according to the first global review of chelonian species.

The paper, published in Chelonian Conservation and Biology, reveals that of the 360 recognised turtle and tortoise species, the risk of extinction is highest for Asian turtles. This is despite there being a rich diversity of species in the region.

Researchers also found that Asian freshwater and semi-terrestrial turtles of the Geoemydidae family face the greatest risk compared to other Testudines species. Of the large vertebrate group, only primates have a higher percentage of threatened species.

“Turtles are in terrible trouble and we need to mobilize even greater international efforts to prevent many of them from slipping into extinction,” said researcher Anders G. J. Rhodin.

“As a response to this impending turtle extinction crisis, over the last few decades, we have seen the emergence of several turtle-focused NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] and the growth of an increasingly engaged international turtle conservation community. This article should continue to raise global awareness of the precarious conservation status of many of these animals.”

In the study, researchers from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) analysed official and provisional assessments of all recognised tortoise and freshwater turtles - around 360 species. The team looked at the current official IUCN Red List and a provisional list compiled by the IUCN specialist group to ensure a thorough analysis.

Researchers then created species richness lists for turtles in several regions of the world, calculating percentages of imperilled species and determining average threat levels for these species. They then compared their results with those for other threatened vertebrates.

It is hoped the assessment will help those undertaking research, designing conservation policies and launching strategic actions to help chelonian populations.

 

Call for stricter regulation of rabbit breeders

Call for stricter regulation of rabbit breeders

Survey sheds light on elusive industry 

Researchers at the Universities of Nottingham and Winchester are calling for stricter regulation of the rabbit breeding industry after a survey found that only one per cent of all breeders are licensed.

Animal welfare researcher Emma Gosling, who oversaw the work as part of her Master's degree, said that the majority of breeders in the UK appear to be unlicensed and are therefore untraceable and unaccountable for their animal’s welfare.

“I hope the new information gathered by my research will fill a gap in knowledge about the industry and foster a new awareness of best practice in rabbit welfare as well as improve licensing compliance among breeders and local councils,” she said.

The Rabbit Breeder Survey found that the most commonly bred sold rabbits were breeds with brachycephalic faces. Whilst most of the breeders provided good diets and toys, more than 50 per cent provided smaller than recommended housing.

The survey also revealed that most breeders housed most rabbits singly, against animal welfare recommendations. Furthermore, it found that most local councils did not use their licensing powers effectively to police commercial rabbits breeding.

Researchers are now calling on organisations to make use of the new study to create interventions to safeguard the welfare of rabbits used for breeding. They urge local councils to review their policies regarding the licensing of pet shops and breeders and to step up efforts to regulate the industry.

Furthermore, the team would like to see the creation of approved guidelines for managing and breeding pet rabbits. In particular, they would like to see this in England, which currently lacks approved guidance on how to meet pet rabbits’ welfare needs.

"Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the country with an estimated population of 1.5 million so it is vitally important that more is known about how these animals are kept, bred and sold,” said Dr Naomi Harvey from the University of Nottigham’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

“It is clear from the Freedom of Information request to local councils in the UK that more needs to be done to make them aware of the extent of the industry and what they can do to help improve the rabbits’ welfare using their licensing powers.”

Concerns over I'm a Celebrity episode

Concerns over I'm a Celebrity episode

Challenge caused snakes psychological harm, charity says 

Animal charity Wild Welfare has raised concerns about physical and psychological harm to snakes in a recent episode of I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

The charity said it believes two snakes were harmed during a challenge where a female contestant placed her hand into a small compartment containing the snakes, prompting one of them to lunge at her several times and appear to bite.

Field director and herpetologist Dave Morgan said: “This situation would have caused the snakes quite extreme physical and psychological harm. It was a highly stressful situation that did not allow the snakes the recourse of escape, so forcing them to react in the only way they knew how.

“Any reptile expert would say the same: that the snakes’ reaction to their predicament was completely inevitable. By intentionally placing the snakes in such a stressful situation, they were forced to attempt to bite. And for what? For sheer sensationalism. The animal’s welfare wasn’t the main consideration, it was shock value and viewer entertainment.”

Wild Welfare’s projects director, Georgina Groves, added: “It’s completely inappropriate to place any animal in an intentionally stressful situation like this, with no way of escape and the only option to act to defend themselves. It is unacceptable to deliberately cause animals harm in this way.”

Carpet pythons have small, solid teeth that face backwards in their mouths. Wild Welfare said it is likely they would have hooked into the contestant’s skin. When she then snatched her hand out of the compartment, the snake would have been pulled from the floor, dangled, then dropped from a height. It is thought this would cause several teeth to be snapped off or pulled out.

Being wrenched could also cause long-term spinal issues for the snake. Meanwhile, the charity said the contestant would likely have received only a superficial scratch or tiny skin punctures.

Groves said I’m a Celebrity has a “great opportunity” to educate people about unique species in a way that does not compromise their welfare. The charity has written to producers at ITV Studios to highlight its concerns over the episode and its ongoing use of wild animals.

ITV has been contacted for comment.

Image by Amos T Fairchild/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
 

Cockatoos can create tools of different lengths

Cockatoos can create tools of different lengths

Researchers assess birds’ tool-making behaviour

Goffin’s cockatoos pay attention to specific functional features of their tools while they are making them, according to new research.

Previous studies showed the birds could spontaneously make long fishing or probing tools by biting them out of different materials, including cardboard. The birds would make parallel bite marks alongside the edge of the material, like a hole puncher, and then use their upper beak to cut the piece out of the cardboard.

But a new study published in Plos ONE shows that the birds can adjust the length of their tools as required by cutting longer or shorter sticks out of cardboard - even rejecting those tools they deem unsuitable.

In the study, researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Vienna found the birds made much longer cardboard strips when a food reward was further away, and shorter strips when food was closer to the probing hole.

“If they do make tools that are not long enough to breach the distance between the food reward and the probing hole they usually discard them before even trying to insert them into the box and immediately make a longer one” explains Carina Köck, a student who conducted the study.

“They even discard notably longer tools when the food is far away than when it is close.”

Researchers said the way the animals showed flexibility in their tool-making behaviour demonstrated they can at least learn to pay attention to different conditions.

But whilst the birds were able to adjust the length of their tools, it seemed they were not able to adjust them to the width openings. Even when the diameter of the probing hole varied, the cockatoos continued to make strips of similar width.

The team believes the limitation is due to how wide the birds can open their beak.

“The lower edge of the upper beak takes a steep curve from the beak tip to the corner of their mouth. The edge of the cardboard block is pressed into the deepest possible point of that curve during tool making,” said Carina.

“This is most likely done for support. Meanwhile, the beak tip was used to cut through the material. This means that the distance between the beak tip and the curve restricted the width of their tools.”

New test for early TB identification in zoo animals

New test for early TB identification in zoo animals

Actiphage method detects mycobacteria before clinical symptoms emerge

A new test that can deliver early TB identification in exotics is being discussed at the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) Congress in Birmingham today (9 November).

The Actiphage test, to be outlined by RVC research fellow Dr Ben Swift, offers a new way to detect and manage bTB in zoo animals and wildlife.

Developed by PBD Biotech, the test can identify bTB and other mycobacterial diseases in animals before clinical symptoms emerge. In comparison to culturing mycobacteria, which can take up to 12 weeks, the test can identify the presence of any mycobacteria in animal blood in as little as six hours.

So far, the technology has been successfully applied to blood samples from 17 different species, including deer, goats and badgers as well as exotic animals such as lions, giraffes and camels. Trials have confirmed PBD Biotech’s assay can detect live mycobacteria in blood or milk samples at very high sensitivity, of less than 10 mycobacterial cells per ml of sample.

“The Actiphage detection method provides a major step change in the detection of viable mycobacteria and has the potential to revolutionise the control and understanding of mycobacterial diseases in zoo animals, wildlife and a range of other species,” explained Dr Swift.
 
“The use of bacteriophage means the test can detect mycobacteria before an immune response is fully developed, giving vets, zoo-keepers and other exotics experts a head-start on the race to catch bTB and other diseases in the hope of preventing the unnecessary cull of protected animals.”