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Scottish zoo prototypes giraffe enrichment system
The prototypes explored whether giraffes would play humming noises rather than humming themselves.
It is the world’s first interactive enrichment system for giraffes.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow have collaborated with a Scottish zoo to develop a prototype enrichment system for giraffes.

The device, which is a world first, allowed five giraffes at Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park to trigger sounds on demand using interactive methods.

The study was devised to provide the giraffes with engaging activities to maintain their mental and physical health, while also exploring the ways that giraffes entertain themselves when they aren’t sleeping.

Giraffes do not sleep for hours each night, but instead take frequent naps whenever they need, usually for less than 30 minutes at a time. When they are awake at night, they instead seem to hum to themselves, creating a sustained and low-frequency rumble.

The prototype devices were designed to discover whether the giraffes would choose to activate humming sounds from the enrichment systems on demand, rather than humming to themselves. They also examined whether these sounds stimulated the giraffes’ behaviour, and were therefore enriching.

Two different systems were built, which could be interacted with in different ways.

One device was activated by touch, playing sounds only when the giraffes nudged or headbutted a toy hanging in their enclosure. The other device played audio whenever an animal stood close to its proximity sensor.

The giraffes were allowed some time to get used to the devices being in their enclosure before the scientists introduced the sound effects: either white noise or a recording of giraffes humming.

From two months of observation, the scientists saw that the giraffes used the proximity-activated device more frequently, but spent longer using the touch-activated device per use. They suggest that this could mean that, while proximity is effective for getting the attention of giraffes, touch sustains their engagement better.

The researchers also noted that the animals had no preference for either sound effect. After the audio elements was introduced, interactions with the devices began to decline.

The study was led by Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing.

She said: “As it turned out, it seems the sound of other giraffes humming isn’t as appealing as we might have expected, which gives us an important data point to move forward with.

“It could also help unravel the mystery of why giraffes in captivity make this humming sound, which is similar to the vocalisations they make to each other but could have another purpose which they don’t necessarily enjoy hearing played back to them.”

The full study, ‘Hum-ble Beginnings: Exploring Input Modality of Touch and Space for Audio’, is due to be presented at the ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces conference on 8 November.

Image © University of Glasgow

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VMG president joins House of Lords

News Story 1
 Miles Russell, president of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG), has been elected to the House of Lords as a crossbench hereditary peer.

He will join Lord Trees as a representative of the veterinary sector in the second chamber of the UK parliament.

Lord Russell said: "Those of us working in the animal health and veterinary sectors are only too aware of the importance of the work we do and the challenges we face.

"I will use my platform in the House of Lords to increase understanding of our sectors and to promote positive change." 

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Sixth case of bluetongue confirmed

A sixth case of bluetongue virus serotype 3 has been confirmed in the UK.

The case was detected in an animal on a premises linked to one of the farms within the Temporary Control Zone (TCZ) currently in place near Canterbury, Kent.

In response, the Animal and Plant Health Agency has extended the TCZ. Investigations into the spread of the disease are ongoing.

The cases in Kent come at a time when a new strain of the virus has spread rapidly across farms in the Netherlands. Both the Government and the British Veterinary Association have urged livestock keepers to remain vigilant.

Bluetongue is a notifiable disease and suspected cases must be reported immediately on 03000 200 301 in England or 03003 038 268 in Wales. In Scotland, possible cases should be reported to the local field services office.