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Vets welcome proposed ban on primates as pets

Vets welcome proposed ban on primates as pets

“We​ ​must​ ​put an end to ​the​ ​keeping​ ​and trade of​ ​primates​ ​as​ ​pets” - Daniella Dos Santos.

The BVA has welcomed government proposals to ban the keeping of primates as pets in England. 

On Saturday (12 December), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched an eight-week consultation seeking views on whether to bring forward legislation to ban the keeping of primates as pets in England. 

Under the proposals, it would be an offence to keep primates, such as lemurs, capuchins and squirrel monkeys as pets. Permission would be granted to those licenced to keep primates at zoo level standards.

Welcoming the move, BVA senior vice president, Daniella Dos Santos said: “For a long time, we have called for a ban on private individuals keeping primates as pets. As​ ​vets,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​significant​ ​concerns​ ​as​ ​to whether​ ​the health and​ ​welfare​ ​needs​ ​of​ ​primates​ ​can​ ​ever​ ​be​ ​met​ ​under these circumstances.

“​Primates​ ​are​ ​long-lived, intelligent​ ​and​ ​socially​ ​complex​ ​animals​ ​whose​ ​needs​ ​are​ ​extraordinarily​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​in​ ​captivity and we can think of no circumstances where a primate would benefit from being kept in this way.”​

She added: “We welcome the Government’s move to open a public consultation on this and hope that it does indeed result in a ban. If​ ​the​ ​UK wants​ ​to​ ​maintain​ ​its​ ​reputation​ ​for​ ​some​ ​of​ ​the​ ​highest​ ​standards​ ​of​ ​animal​ ​welfare in the world​ and if the government wants to fulfil its promises of enhancing the welfare of animals as we leave Europe then we​ ​must​ ​put an end to ​the​ ​keeping​ ​and trade of​ ​primates​ ​as​ ​pets.”

In October 2019, Defra launched a Call for Evidence seeking evidence about the number of primates kept as pets and their welfare, how they are acquired and how any new restrictions might apply.

It revealed that existing legislation does not adequately protect the welfare of primates kept as pets, with many respondents reporting evidence of primates living in birdcages and surviving on junk food. The consultation also showed strong support for reform to improve the welfare of primates as pets. 

According to the RSPCA, an estimated 5,000 primates are kept as pets across the UK. Dr Ros Clubb, senior scientific manager at the charity described the proposed ban on pet primates as 'a fantastic Christmas present'.

“We are delighted that a ban on keeping primates as pets is now in sight - it’s a fantastic Christmas present. We look forward to reading the government's proposals in detail and hope that the legislation will deliver an end to the keeping and trade of primates as pets,” he said.

“Primates are intelligent, sentient and highly social animals with complex needs that simply cannot be met in a domestic environment.”

Study suggests ion generators could be harmful to fish

Study suggests ion generators could be harmful to fish

Researchers conclude generators produce toxic levels of copper and zinc.

Copper ion generators used to control algae growth in freshwater ponds generate high concentrations of metals that could be harmful to fish, according to new research.

The study, published in Vet Record, concludes that ion generators might not be safe for fish and that copper should only be used to prevent algae growth if concentrations are monitored closely.

In the study, researchers carried out physical and postmortem examinations on two koi fish that had died in a pond fitted with a copper ion generator (Aquascape IonGen). They concluded that heavy metal toxicity was the likely cause of morbidity and mortality, which was supported by a heavy metal screening of the owners’ pond.

The team also carried out tests to see whether the IonGen produced toxic levels of copper and zinc. They found that the tank containing the IonGen had higher concentrations of copper and zinc, and copper levels exceeded those associated with toxicity in both hard and soft water.

The researchers conclude: 'Cu ion generators such as the IonGen can produce Cu concentrations that have detrimental effects on the health of koi. Although both Cu and Zn toxicities are dependent on water hardness and other geochemical parameters, the experiment suggests that the IonGen has the capacity to produce Cu at levels that are toxic regardless of water hardness.'

They continue: 'Cu ion generators should not be used in freshwater ponds that contain live plants and animals due to the risk of chronic and unpredictable Cu exposure, and veterinarians should consider Cu ion generators as potential sources for Cu toxicity in freshwater fish, especially in ponds with soft water.'

The study was conducted by researchers at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Study reveals origins of guinea pig domestication

Study reveals origins of guinea pig domestication

Researchers use ancient DNA from archaeological guinea pig remains.

A new study has shed light guinea pig domestication and how and why these popular pets became distributed around the world.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers describe how they used ancient DNA from archaeological guinea pig remains to reveal their transmission from an ancient food source to much-loved pets.

It is commonly accepted that guinea pigs became domesticated in the Andes region of South America around 10,000 years ago. Guinea pigs were viewed as a vital food source and widely used in religious ceremonies.

But sometime around AD 500, guinea pigs were introduced to the islands of the Caribbean through at least one of several established networks. In the study, researchers set out to pinpoint where these guinea pigs originated.

Scientists expected the guinea pigs to have travelled via Colombia because it is one of the closest locations to the Caribbean. But, after extracting DNA from several archaeological sites in the Caribbean, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Europe and North America, they found it was more likely that the guinea pigs came from Peru.

Following an analysis of guinea pig remains found in the Colombian Highlands, researchers were also surprised to discover the guinea pigs were from a different species, suggesting that guinea pig domestication likely took place independently in both Peru and Colombia.

Professor Matisoo-Smith from the University of Otago, New Zealand, explains: “They [guinea pigs] were and still are important food item in many parts of South America and cultures that derived from South America – people took them to live to introduce to new islands where they were not native or they traded them for other goods.

“The guinea pig was brought to Europe in the late 1500s or early 1600s by the Spanish and to North America in the early 1800s as part of the exotic pet trade. In the 18th-century guinea pigs began to be used by medical researchers as laboratory animals because they have many biological similarities to humans, thus the origin of the phrase ‘being a guinea pig’ in research.

“All guinea pigs today - pets, those that are sold for meat in South America and Puerto Rico, and those used in medical research - are derived from the Peruvian domesticated guinea pigs.”

Researchers say their study shows that the history of guinea pigs is more complex than previously thought, and has implications for other studies regarding mammal domestication and distribution.

Professor Matisoo-Smith added: “Identifying the origins of the guinea pig remains from the Caribbean helps us to understand how the human trade networks in the region moved in the past 1000 years or so.

“Through this analysis of ancient guinea pig DNA, we better understand the history of human social interactions over thousands of years and across three continents. It also provides a critical historical perspective of the genetic diversity in guinea pigs and the relationship humans have had with this important domestic animals.”

Calls for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets

Calls for tighter restrictions on keeping dangerous snakes as pets

Investigation reveals venomous 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.

Female fish can breed new species if males are attractive enough

Female fish can breed new species if males are attractive enough

Forty new species found in single lake

New research from St John’s College, University of Cambridge has found that fish will mate with males from different species if its colouring is attractive enough, or if the female can’t see it’s mate properly. This can lead to the evolution of a new species.

A group of scientists visited two freshwater lakes in East Africa, studying 2,000 fish and analysing the DNA of more than 400 cichlid fish over ten years. The group discovered more than 40 new, ecologically diverse species – called radiations – in Lake Mweru, which was formed roughly one million years ago.

Evolutionary biologist and lead author of the research Dr Joana Meier said: “The new species of cichlids adapted to use all the available food resources in the lake. Some feed on insect larvae, others zooplankton or algae. Some newly discovered fish are predators with large teeth, which we named ‘large-tooth serranchromines’.”

Through conducting mating ritual tests in a lab, the team discovered that female cichlids would choose males from a different species to mate with if their colouring was similar to that of the female’s own species. They also found that females could not distinguish between males of their own species or other species when lighting was poor, as they could not see their colours clearly.

Scientists determined that this is what happened a million years ago when different species of cichlids from the Congo and the Zambezi combined in Lake Mweru. Creating a diverse offspring that could feed on different things to their parents and invade new habitats. Eventually leading to the evolution of 40 new species of fish.

Dr Meier continued: “Hybridisation has traditionally been viewed as something bad because if species hybridise they can, over time, merge into a single species and you lose biodiversity or lose the local species.

“The melting pot of Lake Mweru gave us a rare opportunity to study interactions between evolving new species and showed that in a new environment with lots of ecological opportunity hybridisation can be a good thing that actually increases biodiversity.”

Image (c) Dr Joana Meier

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 Veterinary 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 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.