First year Animal Behaviour and Welfare undergraduates gained an informed insight into the industry they are about to enter thanks to our annual Animal Welfare Conference.

Organised by Alice Cowie and Finn McCully from University Centre Reaseheath’s Faculty of Animal Science, the conference brought together influential speakers from centres of science and learning and covered subjects from the use of animals in organ transplantation to zoo welfare.

Ellen Williams, Postgraduate Researcher, Nottingham Trent University, spoke about her PhD investigation into social structures and relationships in UK and Irish zoo elephant herds. Ellen had found that compatibility between individual elephants is important for their wellbeing in social groups.

Dr Lottie Hosie, Senior Lecturer, University of Chester, discussed her research group’s work on how to assess amphibian welfare using physiological and behavioural measures.  Simple environmental enrichment, such as the provision of shaded areas in tanks, has been found to relieve stress in laboratory amphibians.

Forrest Taylor, Lecturer in Animal Science, University Centre Reaseheath, presented an overview on the use of animals in xenotransplantation (organ transplant between different species). This was particularly poignant, as she herself has a bovine heart valve. Forrest’s talk challenged her audience to grapple with key ethical issues and to question preconceptions about the use of animals for medical purposes.

Heather Jackson, Team Supervisor,  Covance Laboratories, gave insights into how Covance implements the ‘3R’s’ in its animal research (reduction, refinement and replacement), and how  laboratory animal welfare is maximised through environmental enrichment, positive reinforcement, ‘play’ times and careful planning of social groupings to ensure compatible animals are housed together.

Jim Barrington, Animal Welfare Consultant, Countryside Alliance, suggested there were potential flaws in current legislation relating to wildlife management.  Jim advocated traditional forms of managing the countryside, such as hunting with hounds, over more recent methods such as shooting. He argued that traditional methods may, in fact, be the more welfare-friendly option.

Dr Leah Williams, Behaviour Officer, Chester Zoo, discussed the importance (and difficulties) of assessing animal welfare among the wide range of species within the zoo’s collection. Enlightening case studies included an abnormally behaving bear which was found, after detective work, to be suffering from a toothache! Happily, the bear was treated successfully.

Undergraduate Tiffany Lockett said: “Forrest’s talk on xenotransplantation was outstanding and I also enjoyed Jim Barrington’s presentation on wildlife conservation. The talks definitely gave plenty of topics for discussion.”

Fellow student Jonathan Dawson added: “It was good to learn from a variety of speakers. Their personal experiences made the conference all the more engaging.”