Dissertation defence (Biology): MSc Océane Liehrmann
MSc Océane Liehrmann defends her dissertation in Biology entitled “Investigating the human-animal relationship in working animals” at the University of Turku on 6 October 2023 at 12.15 pm (University of Turku, Educarium, Edu2, Assistentinkatu 5, Turku).
The audience can participate in the defence by remote access: https://utu.zoom.us/j/69818148127
Opponent: Docent Maria Vilain Rørvang (Department of Biosystems and Technology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden)
Custos: Professor Jon Brommer (University of Turku)
Doctoral Dissertation at UTUPub: https://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-29-9429-8
Summary of the Doctoral Dissertation:
Throughout history, animals have served various roles in human life, from providing food and clothing to assisting in research and labor. While studies typically focus on pets, livestock, and zoo animals, the relationships between humans and working animals received insufficient attention, despite their significant presence.
In my thesis, I explored what influences the connection between working animals and their handlers. I looked at factors like how well the handler knows the animal, how long theyve been together, how many handlers and previous owners the animal has had, the handlers experience, and the animals own experiences. I also considered how different living environments affect this relationship.
Conducting experiments with Asian elephants used in timber work, leisure horses, and sledge reindeer, I found that longer and more familiar handler-animal relationships reduced reluctance toward novelty in Asian elephants and horses. However, reindeer seemed less affected by handler familiarity, possibly due to less time spent with specific caretakers. This suggests that building a positive human-animal relationship takes time, shaped by past interactions and daily routines. Age and training experience also played a role, with younger animals being more exploratory and older ones better at understanding human cues.
The environment mattered, especially for horses; larger groups and fields improved success in following human cues. Thus, suitable living conditions can enhance cognitive development and the ability of animals to work with humans.
In summary, this thesis provides valuable insights into human-working animal relationships. These findings have practical implications for training and caring for draft working animals, emphasizing the need to tailor approaches to each species unique traits. Addressing the specific needs of working animals and creating appropriate living conditions can significantly enhance their overall well-being and effectiveness.