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Captive-bred VS. wild-caught exotic pets

Exotic animal ownership has greatly increased in popularity in recent years, as more varied species become available, and, with technological advances, the means for keeping them have become more accessible. There are a myriad of ethical issues involved with keeping exotic pets, not least of which is how to meet their complex health and welfare requirements in captivity.

What are exotic pets?

Exotic pets refers to any species that are not indigenous to the country in which they are kept as companion animals. This is not just 'unusual' animals, like corn snakes, or capuchin monkeys, but also includes: different aquarium fish, such as goldfish; various rodents, such as hamsters or guinea pigs; and birds, such as budgies or canaries.

My thesis on exploratory learning

How do different animals cope with the vast environmental complexity they face from birth or hatching? If animals’ genes have not provided the necessary information, then exploration is essential for gathering information and learning about the surrounding world. Much of cognition research to date has focussed on what the different abilities of different animal species are, rather than how they actually process information. This thesis has taken a distinctive interdisciplinary approach to tackle this problem from different angles: asking how the senses, environment and different behavioural strategies influence exploratory learning – specifically in the naturally exploratory parrot and human child. …

Coding an exploring brain

Faced with a vast, dynamic environment, animals and robots often need to acquire and segregate information about objects. The form of their internal representation depends on how the information is utilised. Sometimes it should be compressed and abstracted from the original, often complex, sensory information, so it can be efficiently stored and manipulated, for deriving interpretations, causal relationships, functions or affordances. We discuss how salient features of objects can be used to generate compact representations, later allowing for relatively accurate reconstructions and rea- soning. …

A bird’s eye view on how a little enrichment can go a long way

The 3Rs – Replacement, Refinement and Reduction – are a widely accepted ethical framework for conducting scientific experiments using animals humanely, and have become a focus for academic funding in recent years. As a result, there have been thorough housing and management guidelines for keeping different animal species for research purposes published and enforced by the UK Home Office. However, surprisingly few species-specific guidelines for housing birds have made it into scientific policy or legislation, although, at least in the EU, they make up approximately 25% of animals used in research and over 100,000 procedures are carried out on birds every year under the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. …

Building an information-processing system

Imagine a situation in which you had to design a physical agent that could collect information from its environment, then store and process that information to help it respond appropriately to novel situations. What kinds of information should it attend to? How should the information be represented so as to allow efficient use and re-use? What kinds of constraints and trade-offs would there be? There are no unique answers. In this paper, we discuss some of the ways in which the need to be able to address problems of varying kinds and complexity can be met by different information processing systems. …

It’s child’s play

Piaget's view - that children learn through play and exploration - is widely accepted as being integral to cognitive development. Surprisingly few scientists, however, have systematically investigated how exploration is structured to support learning mechanisms in different situations and even fewer have studied it in non-human animals. Traditionally, the methodological approach for studying cognitive development in human and non-human animals has been very different, but a comparative approach can be very informative. We exploited the strong explorative tendencies of parrots and human children, and designed a series of comparative experiments to provide a window into the mechanisms and strategies used in causal learning. …

How do parrots see and feel?

Parrots are exceptional among birds for their high levels of exploratory behaviour and manipulatory abilities. It has been argued that foraging method is the prime determinant of a bird's visual field configuration. However, here we argue that the topography of visual fields in parrots is related to their playful dexterity, unique anatomy and particularly the tactile information that is gained through their bill tip organ during object manipulation. We measured the visual fields of Senegal parrots Poicephalus senegalus using the ophthalmoscopic reflex technique and also report some preliminary observations on the bill tip organ in this species. …


Zoe Demery 2012