Adventure: New Zealand's Tongariro Crossing

Shortly after flying about 30 hours from the far side of the world, to help me recover from jet lag Jasmijn took me on the Tongariro Crossing - one of the world's best one-day hikes - which crosses a series of volcanoes in the centre of New Zealand's North Island. The pics are here.

Presentations: Jack the Ripper and other topics

On December 6th I’ll be speaking on Animal use and alternatives within life and health sciences education, at the Scientific Conference: Non-Animal Approaches - The Way Forward, in Brussels, and on December 7th I’ll be delivering my inaugural lecture entitled ‘Was Jack the Ripper a Slaughterman? Unexpected Journeys in Animal Welfare’, at the University of Winchester. The latter is shaping up to be particularly interesting, and even, dare I say it, entertaining, so I do very much encourage you to join me at this if you possibly can. The University will kindly be supplying plenty of food, wine, and I believe, fine company!

NB: the video of this lecture is now available here!

Article: unjustified euthanasia request part II

In part II of the scenario recently published, you're a more experienced veterinarian. A junior colleague has accepted a request for a medically-unjustified 'euthanasia', but is now having second thoughts. What would you advise? My answer is now available in In Practice.

Article: Vegetarian versus meat-based diets for companion animals

Are vegetarian companion animal diets safe for cats and dogs? Some studies have indicated nutritional deficiencies in such diets. How do these compare with meat-based diets? Are vegetarian animals more, less or similarly healthy? Additionally, many feel vegetarian companion animal diets are not natural. How much of a concern is this for domesticated animal companions? Finally, for those pet owners that choose to feed vegetarian diets, how might they seek to maximise the health of their animal companions? All of these topics are explored in our article just published in Animals. We review the existing evidence concerning the nutritional soundness of vegetarian and meat-based diets for cats and dogs, and the health status of both groups. Additional information is sourced from the manufacturers of vegetarian companion animal diets. This lengthy article provides the most comprehensive peer-reviewed examination of these topics to date.

Article: orcas confined within oceanaria

Based on neuroanatomical indices such as brain size and encephalization quotient, orcas are among the most intelligent animals on Earth. They display a range of complex behaviors indicative of social intelligence, but these are difficult to study in the open ocean where protective laws may apply, or in captivity, where access is constrained for commercial and safety reasons. From 1979 to 1980, however, my co-authors were able to interact with juvenile orcas in an unstructured way at San Diego’s SeaWorld facility. They observed in the animals what appeared to be pranks, tests of trust, limited use of tactical deception, emotional self-control, and empathetic behaviors. Their observations were consistent with those of a former Seaworld trainer, and provide important insights into orca cognition, communication, and social intelligence. However, after being trained as performers within Seaworld’s commercial entertainment program, a number of orcas began to exhibit aggressive behaviors. The orcas who previously established apparent friendships with humans were most affected, although significant aggression also occurred in some of their descendants, and among the orcas they lived with. Such oceanaria confinement and commercial use can no longer be considered ethically defensible, given the current understanding of orcas’ advanced cognitive, social, and communicative capacities, and of their behavioral needs. Read the full article in Animals.