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Dr Mark Whiteside (Pheasant Ecology & Cognition Group, University of Exeter): "The welfare of game birds destined for release into the wild: a balance between early life care and preparation for future natural hazards"

The Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour seminar series. All welcome.

Event details


Each year over 110 million game birds are reared in captivity and released into the wild in the UK, USA and France. In the UK, there has been a nine-fold increase in the last 50 years. Game birds are artificially reared for their first 6-12 weeks in environments that offer warmth, protection and an unlimited nutrient-rich diet. Therefore, extremely high standards of welfare can be implemented and monitored, resulting in the production of a large number of ostensibly ‘healthy’ individuals. The birds are then released into the wild; an environment where the ethical obligation of care remains but the ability to intervene is restricted. Game birds suffer from high post-release mortality, substantially more than their wild-born conspecifics. The reason for this is that the released birds have morphological, cognitive and behavioural characteristics that differ from wild-reared conspecifics as a consequence of being reared in a non-naturalistic environment. To mitigate these developmental deficiencies reintroduction biologists manipulate rearing environments to make them more naturalistic. However, nature is stressful and adoption of such methods may have welfare implications.

I review the current practice adopted by game breeders and then present the results from two studies that investigated the effects that manipulations to the early rearing environment has on pre-release and post-release welfare of pheasants.

Maximising lifetime welfare of an animal that is reared in captivity and released into the wild requires a resolution of trade-offs between pre-release and post-release welfare. In some cases the provision of a more naturalistic environment may improve both (e.g. provision of perches). Alternatively, pre-release and post-release welfare may conflict, particularly when the naturalistic manipulations are stressful (e.g. predator presentation).

Therefore should one cosset the captive stock entirely and maximise pre-release welfare but release individuals without the characteristics to survive. Or, should current welfare conditions be compromised, exposing individuals to dangers, stress and discomfort early in life to better prepare them for natural conditions in the wild? Gamebird welfare should be considered a balance and further research is required to determine these welfare trade-offs. 


Washington Singer Room 105