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Animal Science

College staff involved within the animal science theme have undertaken work in a variety of contexts including applied animal behaviour, biodiversity and animal conservation.  Askham Bryan as a College has significant animal science resources that are deployed to service the applied research projects.  These include, a brand new purpose built animal science centre, one of the most significant and extensive college or university based animal collections (Zoo licensed) in the country, extensive dog kennelling and behaviour training areas, an ongoing relationship with a number of large animal collections across the north of England as well as extensive well-equipped laboratories.

Project Staff:

Dr Anna Riach, Lecturer in Animal Management and Equine
Alex Downing, Lecturer in Animal Management


Current Staff Research

Assessing the Impact of a New Black Rhino Enclosure at Flamingo Land Zoo
Alex Downing, Anna Riach, Mark Hoyle

On the 23rd of September 2015 Flamingo Land Zoo opened the £1.6 million ‘Selous Black Rhino Reserve’, designed and built to accommodate a breeding group of critically endangered Eastern black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis michaeli).  The rhino is one of the top five crowd drawers at wildlife attractions (Mueller et al. 2013) and there is an active EEP for this species.  The purpose of the project was to assess if the new exhibit has met the needs of the rhinos (a fourteen year old female and her 18 month old calf), the needs of the visitors and the keepers working with them by establishing how the rhino utilise their enclosure, whether the keepers can carry out daily husbandry tasks in a safe and effective manner and the if visitors benefit from the enclosure and enjoy their experience.

Results show that the rhino used all areas within their enclosure with a strong preference for two sections outdoors and a preference to one of the indoor pens. Analysis of their behaviour showed that they both spend a large proportion of the time at rest (standing still and laying down). Visitors are very satisfied with the exhibit and offered no suggestions for improvement and the keepers felt that the exhibit met their and the animal’s needs.  Further behavioural observations would allow a greater understanding of how to continue to improve the enclosure for the species.


Cattle Grimace Scoring
Andrew Henworth, Loni Loftus, Rob Wilson Grace Bell and Mark Hoyle

Grimace Scoring is a relatively new field of research. Facial grimace scoring or the grimace scale is used to assess both the occurrence and severity of pain experienced by animals. Initial facial grimace scoring research focused on laboratory animals. Facial action units (FAU’s), for example Orbital Tightening (narrowing of the eyes), Nose Bulge, Ear Position and Whisker Change in mice have been shown to increase in intensity in response to pain and can therefore be used as a measure of the level of pain experienced. The first method to assess pain using changes in facial expression in any non-human animal species was developed for mice in 2010 (Langford et al., 2010).

Lonardi et al. (2013), after conducting preliminary work evaluating pain caused by tail docking piglets, argue that facial expression shows promise for the adoption of facial expression as a tool for acute pain assessment in pigs. Work has since taken place on the development of a grimace scale as a pain assessment tool for horses (Costa et al., 2014).  A Sheep Grimace Scale for sheep has similarly been developed by Hager et al. (2017).

The method adopted here will compare locomotion scores, a well-defined pain assessment method, with facial grimace scores and an association will then be determined. To do this, each cow in the study is videoed walking 10 m on an even and level surface in order to allow its mobility to be scored and its facial expressions recorded while walking. The cow is then restrained in a foot trimming crush and thermographic images of its foot are taken to identify any areas of potential inflammation. The foot is then trimmed and or treated by the foot trimmer; the cause of lameness being determined via this process. Still images are taken of any lesions discovered. The process, therefore, produces the following data for analysis:

  • Mobility score
  • Facial expression while walking
  • Head position and movement while walking
  • Thermographic images of individual claws
  • Photographic images of lesions if present
  • Assessment of commercial foot trimmer of cause of lameness, if any

The preliminary findings are promising.  Orbital tightening, tension above the eye area and prominence of the chewing muscles are emerging as important facial action units in the expression of pain and discomfort. Interestingly, salivation may appear to be an additional important indicator of pain in cattle which has not been identified in other species.

Thermography as an Aid to Detection of Foot Problems in Cattle
Andrew Henworth, Loni Loftus, Rob Wilson, Grace Bell and Mark Hoyle

Infrared thermometry is a relatively new field of research with regard to diagnosis of foot problems in cattle. The hallmarks of inflammation, for example, heat, redness, swelling, pain and loss of function, first described by Celsus more than 2000 years ago, apply to all tissues in the body (Rushton et al., 2015).   It has been shown that increases in the temperature of individual claws in the bovine foot can take place up to six weeks before outward signs of lameness are seen (Wood et al., 2015)  Workers including Wood et al. (ibid) have shown that Infrared thermometry can be useful in detecting claw abnormalities in cattle at an individual and herd level. Research into the application of thermometry in detecting and diagnosing causes in a commercial context is however limited.

The research project at ABC aims to investigate the application of thermometry in a commercial dairy herd as an aid to early detection and diagnosis of foot lesions in dairy cows feet. This is particularly relevant due to the increased availability and decreasing cost of thermographic cameras, and  as noted by AHDB (2017), cattle lameness is one of the most significant welfare and productivity issues in dairy farming, yet  studies over the last 25 years have indicated that few significant improvements have been made in dairy cow lameness incidence in that time.

Development of a thermographic imaging procedure for early detection of foot problems in dairy cattle has the potential to make a substantial contribution to dairy cattle welfare and productivity.


Staff Research

Project Title:
Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Black Rhino Enclosure at Flamingo Land Zoo
Start Date:
March 2016
Project Lead Staff:
Alex Downing
Project Partners:
Flamingo Land Zoo
Other Project Staff:
Dr Anna Riach
Mark Hoyle
Project Aims and Overview:

Primary research to evaluate the success of the recently completed Black Rhino exhibit at Flamingo Land Zoo and apply for the BIAZA Certificate of Excellence: Exhibits award. Evaluate effectiveness through the impact of animal care and management, activity budgets and space quality (Rose and Robert, 2013), display of normal behaviours and reduction in any stereotypical behaviour; implement new feeding devices within the indoor enclosure to reduce pacing in the adult female and the impact as an educational resource following EAZA Education Standards 2001.

The Black Rhino exhibit is a newly built enclosure and the species is a first for the zoo. Research on captive Black Rhino in general is limited with little or no research on nocturnal behaviours. This will also be the first time Flamingo Land has submitted an application for the Certificate of Excellence: Exhibits award.

The research will focus on three main areas, the animals, keepers and public allowing student dissertations to work alongside the primary research.


Askham Bryan College,
Askham Bryan,
YO23 3FR
01904 772277