I am Georgia Mason (now older looking than this photo!), a British behavioural biologist who moved from Oxford to Canada in 2004 to take up a Canada Research Chair in Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph (http://www.uoguelph.ca/).
I and my (fabulous) group are interested in how animals adapt (or otherwise) to barren, impoverished captive housing conditions, and what it is about more complex ‘enriched’ captive housing that makes it better for animals. In other words, if animals are healthy, well-provisioned and protected from physical harm, is that all that they need for good welfare? Or do they still need to be able to perform activities like social interaction, foraging, or ranging? These simple questions are at the heart of everything we do, but they in turn raise many other fascinating issues to explore. For a start, how can we tell? How can we say anything objective about how animals feel, without slithering into anthropomorphism? And are other species even sentient at all: maybe they are just little robots without feelings? And when we do find evidence that animals find barren cages stressful or aversive, is that because they are motivated to perform certain specific natural behaviour patterns? Or because they have more general needs, like avoiding ‘boredom’ or having control? Whatever they are, how and why might such needs evolve, and how are they modified by early experience, or by cues in the animal’s environment? At the more ‘applied’ end of our work, can we design simple, cheap, robust enrichments that will improve animal welfare in practical situations like working mink farms or commercial laboratory rodent breeding facilities? And finally, do the welfare benefits of enriched environments help explain the well-known neurological benefits of enriched environments: does being happy make you smart …?
For our blog, see http://masonabwlab.wordpress.com/
For our publications, see: http://georgiamason.wordpress.com/
For more on animal welfare research in Guelph, see: http://www.uoguelph.ca/abw/