Obituary: Professor David Wood-Gush
Wednesday 10 February 1993
DAVID WOOD-GUSH was one of the first to evaluate the effects on animals of 'factory farming'. He was an applied ethologist, carrying out research into the behaviour of domesticated animals in order to improve both agricultural productivity and the lot of the animals themselves.
A pioneer, Wood-Gush recognised that if humane treatment and economic viability are to go hand in hand, it is essential to take account of the social behaviour of agricultural animals when designing housing and husbandry systems. Stress in animals and its causes and development was a particular interest, and he demonstrated the importance of social factors. He established that the animal should not be thought of as a commodity, but as an individual whose dominant or subordinate status within the annimal community influences its access to resources such as food, mates and shelter. Since in captivity subordinates generally cannot avoid dominants, Wood-Gush showed that carefully designed housing and feeding methods are required if all individuals are to obtain sufficient resources and stress is to be avoided. He designed housing systems catering for the animals' needs based on detailed, scientific studies of how they use a more natural environment. Together with other colleagues, he set up a 'pig park' near Edinburgh in an area of mixed woodland and grassland in which the pigs were observed 'free-range'. This led to the design of a more humane, but still economically viable, housing system. In marked contrast to traditional housing, Wood-Gush's designs allowed the animals to keep themselves clean, root around and interact, and where sows could build nests and remain with their young, rather than being chained in farrowing crates with the piglets forcibly weaned at a very early age.
In addition to their practical application, all of these studies produced a large number of scientific papers. At the time of his death Wood-Gush had published more papers than any other individual in the leading ethological journal Animal Behaviour. He was elected president of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour and Chairman of the Society of Veterinary Ethologists.
David Wood-Gush was also very interested in education and began teaching at Edinburgh University's School of Agriculture in 1978. He had numerous research students, produced a textbook aimed at getting veterinary students informed in animal behaviour, and recently set up the first MSc course in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare.
Though an eminent, internationally recognised scientist in his field, Wood-Gush kept his own trumpet firmly in its case, and detested the pushy kind of academic with a thirst for recognition rather than knowledge. His humane attitude to animals reflected his whole personality.
Born in South Africa, he came to Britain as a young man and remained disgusted with the racist South African regime. Interesting, and interested, he was one of an increasingly rare breed of scientist: cultured and intellectual. He had long suffered great pain from his arm following the loss of his left hand as a young man, sometimes severe enough to cause him suddenly to crouch forward in mid-sentence. But he never complained and was always a warm, charming man. I can see his tall distinguished figure now, flamboyant red kerchief tied round his neck, head tossed back and face creased with laughter as he related some humorous tale. When male colleagues call one 'dear' it can be irritatingly patronising; with David Wood-Gush it always felt like a compliment.
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