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Study reveals insights into equine obesity
"Most owners and keepers know that individual horses and ponies experience different positives and negatives when living in groups."
Researchers assess impact of social behaviour on body condition. 

New research by the University of Bristol and the Royal Veterinary College has revealed how social behaviour can influence the body condition of horses and ponies living in herds.

Ponies and horses have evolved to live in herd environments within a distinct social hierarchy. Scientists say their findings, published in the journal PeerJ, could help to address problems associated with equine obesity. 

The study was conducted in collaboration with SPILLERS™ through the WALTHAM™ equine studies group. Clare Barfoot, marketing and research and development director at SPILLERS, said: 

“Most owners and keepers know that individual horses and ponies experience different positives and negatives when living in groups. This is why we tend to choose field companions carefully so that a balanced and harmonious relationship can be maintained within the herd.” 

Previous research found that the foraging success of individual animals in social groups may in part be influenced by their social status. Building on this knowledge, the team set out to investigate the importance of other social factors on foraging efficiency and body condition.

In the study, researchers spent 120 hours observing the winter foraging behaviour of 20 separate domestic herds of horses and ponies, noting the duration, frequency and cause of interruptions (vigilance, movement, social displacements given and received, scratching and startle responses). 

They found that vigilance frequency was the individual interruption behaviour most strongly and negatively associated with body condition score: a lower body condition was associated with greater vigilance. 

But vigilance was not associated with dominance status, the team notes, indicating that some individuals may be more likely to conduct vigilance, perhaps on behalf of the group or due to being more anxious or alert. 

The study also revealed that the subordinate horses showed more movement while foraging and were more likely to receive displacements and be forced to move foraging location. 

Ms Barfoot said: “These results are novel and exciting in that they present the first behavioural evidence to confirm previous theoretical work. Neither the more vigilant nor the more frequently disturbed individuals compensated for their reduction in feed (energy) intake by spending more time foraging which probably explains the link with lower body condition. 

“We hope that what we have learnt about the behaviour of individual horses when kept in groups could be included as a relevant factor when addressing health problems associated with equine obesity.”

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Born Free video highlights how humans are to blame for COVID-19

News Story 1
 Wildlife charity Born Free has released a video emphasising the importance of changing the ways in which humans treat wildlife in order to prevent pandemics from occurring in the future.

The video, narrated by founder patron Joanna Lumley OBE, says: "To deal with the very immediate threat of another global catastrophe, we have to focus on ending the destruction and conversion of natural habitats and the devastating impact of the wildlife trade.

"The vast majority of these viruses originated in wild animals before infecting us. Destroying and exploiting nature puts us in closer contact with wildlife than ever before."

Born Free has compiled an online resource with information on how to take action and improve protections for wildlife here.

To view the video, please click here.

Images (c) Jan Schmidt-Burbach. 

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RVC opens 2021 Summer Schools applications

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has opened applications for its 2021 Summer Schools, with students in Years 10, 11 and 12 invited to apply.

Taking place between July and August 2021, the event gives budding vets from all backgrounds first-hand insight into what it's like to study at the Campus.

Much of this year's content is likely to be delivered virtually, including online lectures and practical demonstrations, but the RVC hopes to welcome each of the participants to campus for at least one day to gain some hands-on experience.

For more information about the Schools and to apply, visit: rvc.uk.com/SummerSchools Applications close on the 2 March 2021.