Workshop on birds of prey held in Kenya – John and Margaret Cooper


John Cooper and Sarah Higgins, wildlife rehabilitator, with the spotted eagle owl that stole the show at the Workshop

A One-Day Workshop on the health and welfare of birds of prey and their interface with poultry and other species was held at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (FVM), University of Nairobi,  on Wednesday 3rd July, 2013

The lectures started with a presentation on “Birds of prey: status and threats” by Dr Peter Njoroge, a Kenyan biologist, Head of the Ornithology Department at the National Museums of Kenya (NMK). . He discussed the different species of bird of prey and explained their importance. He pointed out that farmers should welcome certain raptors on their land because “an owl is a better rat-catcher than a cat”.

Dr B.M Kavoi then spoke on the anatomy and physiology of birds of prey and domestic chickens.  He explained the differences in body structure.  This was an excellent comparative review of the similarities between raptors and domestic poultry.

Dr Celsus Sente, a wildlife veterinarian from Makerere University, Uganda, then gave the first of his two lectures.  Dr Sente had travelled by bus – a journey of over fifteen hours, to Nairobi.  His first presentation was on the complex relationship between raptors, humans and commercial enterprises.  He provided statistics on the population of birds of prey in Uganda, the largest host country in Africa.  He discussed attitudes to birds of prey and enumerated the challenges that they are facing.


A vulture’s idea of how to deal with a vet! John Cooper wards off the not-so-gentle advances of the bird that guards the entrance to the rehabilitation centre in Kenya

The next presentation covered the law relating to birds of prey.  Dr Francis Gakuya (Kenya Wildlife Service, KWS) explained legal protection in Kenya and Mrs Margaret Cooper the international status of these birds Dr Gakuya noted that birds of prey are protected under Kenya’s Wildlife Act (Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 376). This means that a permit is required from KWS if such birds are to be taken into captivity or studied as part of a research programme.  If these birds were to be properly protected there was a need for better enforcement of legislation, increased awareness of their importance, restriction of pesticide use and (probably) introduction of captive-breeding programmes.  Mrs Margaret E Cooper discussed international legislation that is relevant to birds of prey, including CITES. She explained the importance of the “Five Freedoms” in respect of animal welfare and their application to birds of prey.

Rehabilitation was the subject of the next lecture, a joint presentation by Professor John Cooper, Mrs Margaret Cooper and Dr Zoe Gibbs.  The Coopers read out a message of greeting from Mrs Jeannie Knocker, still living in Kenya, the daughter of the legendary falconer and naturalist Captain C W R Knight.

“an owl is a better rat-catcher than a cat”

Following coffee and the usual Kenyan “bitings” (tasty, locally produced, snacks) there was an opportunity for registrants to view literature provided by the British Falconers Club (who had also given  financial support) , the Hawk and Owl Trust, the Raptor Research Association and, nearer to home, NatureKenya.

Aa thought-provoking lecture by Professor Philip Nyaga was entitled “Birds of prey in relation to poultry production and health”. Professor Nyaga discussed the possible role of birds of prey in terms of disease transmission to poultry.

Professor Cooper returned to the podium to give a high-speed lecture on “Health and diseases of birds of prey”.  He pointed out that in the early 1970s large numbers of publications about “raptor medicine” emanated from Kenya, largely based on work with sick and injured birds of prey. There was much written information on the diseases of raptors, especially falcons (Family Falconidae), some of it dating back a 1000 years to Arabic treatises.


Margaret Cooper and Sarah Higgins with a casualty Verreaux’s eagle owl at the centre

Dr Sente’s second lecture was entitled “Population dynamics, control and management of birds of prey in urban and rural areas in perspective to poultry and other industries”.  He provided information on the population trends for black kites and fish eagles from separate regions within Uganda.

The last presentation of the morning was by Dr Mbaria on poisons and toxicants of birds of prey and poultry.  He discussed the different types of toxicants and their effects on population and ecosystems.

The first afternoon presentation was by Professor Nyaga on post-mortem techniques followed by a presentation by Professor Kanyari and Dr Githigia on the identification of parasites of birds.

Participants then proceeded to the laboratory where they were taken through forensic aspects of diagnostic pathology and treatment of birds of prey by Professor Cooper, rehabilitation by Dr Gibbs, Mrs Sarah Higgins and Mr Simon Thomsett and viewed a display of laws and codes of practice and NatureKenya publications illustrating the conservation value of raptors in the wild by Mrs Margaret Cooper.

At the end of the day the registrants were introduced to a live eagle owl (Bubo africanus), a casualty bird that could not be released, and told about his history and care by Mrs Higgins. This attracted much interest and discussion – an important breakthrough in terms of the preconceptions that some Kenyans have about raptors.

John and Margaret Cooper


Congratulations, Francis.

The Haith's PRO team (Rachael Haith & Simon King) are joined by Professor John Cooper to congratulate Zoo Nutrition Intern - Francis Cabana - on completing his nutrition scholarship, see:

The BIAZA AGM & Conference – 2013.


Francis Cabana M.Sc. and Professor John Cooper.


The Haith’s PRO team (from left: Simon King & Rachael Haith) are joined by Professor John Cooper (right) to congratulate Zoo Nutrition Intern – Francis Cabana – on completing the first Haith’s PRO Scholarship for Studies in Nutrition.

Read about the challenge we set Francis on line, at see: 


The 1st International Conference on Avian, Herpetological and Exotic Mammal Medicine (ICARE), organised by the European Committee of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians, the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians and the European College of Zoological Medicine, was held in Wiesbaden, the capital of Hesse, Germany.

The Conference was the largest of its kind ever organised, certainly in Europe.  Over 500 people attended from 38 countries and all continents except Antarctica!  It brought together specialists in the fields of avian, herpetological and exotic mammal medicine (including rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets).  Starting with a Basic Day, Master Classes and Practical Labs, the conference offered both practical information for beginners in the field and specialist advice for experienced veterinarians.  This was followed by scientific sessions reporting latest developments, as well as providing case reports for practitioners.  There was a particular focus on species conservation since this affects all animal groups.  The Conference was supplemented by a trade exhibition, involving many of the companies that are active in exotic and general veterinary medicine.

There are now nearly 100 Diplomates of the European College of Zoological Medicine (ECZM): these are the group of veterinary surgeons who have acquired specialist status in such fields as avian medicine, diseases of reptiles and amphibians or wildlife population health.  The others who attended the Wiesbaden Conference may not yet be Diplomates but were young colleagues aspiring to achieve this status.

Haith’s veterinary advisor, Professor John E Cooper, was a keynote speaker at the Conference, with his wife Margaret Cooper.  Their subject was “Conservation, Fieldwork and the Law: Difficulties and Dilemmas”. They pointed out that many of the world’s most threatened animals are found in remote and inaccessible parts of the world. Veterinarians and others working on such species are likely to need to take samples and these may require processing in other countries.

Once samples cross international borders, whether just to adjacent countries or further afield (e.g. the European Union), legislation and the need for documentation come into play. Therefore, at an early stage in any fieldwork, it is important to ascertain the legal requirements and to follow the administrative procedures in order to obtain the necessary permits or licences. Permits may be needed to comply with CITES, animal health regulations and national conservation or export law.

In their presentation the Coopers discussed the practicalities of obtaining permission to take and export samples. In so doing, they drew upon their experiences (good and bad) of living and working in Africa and the West Indies. They drew attention to ways in which the process can be expedited, including the “fast track” system for biological samples procedure under CITES. They emphasised the need for the veterinary profession to continue to make its voice heard in respect of legal constraints on the movement of samples and the adverse effect that this can have in terms of the health, welfare and conservation of wildlife.

Other lectures of interest to readers of this blog included many on birds in captivity and in the wild.  In the ECZM session Dr Tom Tully, incoming President, discussed aspects of feeding in parrots and pointed out that, contrary to some claims, these birds have 200-300 taste buds.  Other speakers covered disparate aspects of avian medicine including chlamydophilosis (”psittacosis”), avian pox in British tit species, diet-induced atherosclerosis in Quaker parrots, the investigation of ocular disorders in birds of prey, avian anaesthesia and avian haematology.

The printed and on-line Proceedings of ICARE, despite consisting largely of abstracts (summaries), not full papers, constituted 525 pages – an indication of the size of this Conference, the interest it engendered and the scientific quality of the presentations. The website for the Conference can still be read at

John E Cooper

Margaret E Cooper

5th May 2013


Friday 24 May 2013 – 6pm Rutherford Lecture Theatre One

(Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury)

John and Margaret Cooper –

‘Snares, Serpents and CITES: Challenges for Wildlife Forensics’ 


This will be a rare opportunity to listen to, and meet, husband and wife team John and Margaret Cooper before their wildlife forensic work whisks them back to Kenya.

Professor John Cooper is a specialist veterinary pathologist with particular interests in wildlife and exotic species, tropical diseases and comparative medicine and Margaret, his wife, is a lawyer who has made the study of animal and conservation law her special interest.

Wildlife CSI – sounds exciting, can be dangerous, is certainly challenging – a different species each time, often in different countries and cultures or in extreme terrains or climates.  It is usually in a good cause and one must expect the unexpected.

Investigating, answering questions, dissecting, preserving, reporting, solving mysteries; forensic examination of live and dead animals: all are an essential part of CSI and support the enforcement of wildlife laws.  It may also be used to answer other questions in science, veterinary and human medicine, or simply to find out how and why an animal (or a person) died.

Wildlife crime investigation can demand the skills of many specialists but an understanding of natural history provides the sixth sense required to track down that vital, but elusive, piece of evidence.

In this lecture, John and Margaret Cooper discuss the essentials of wildlife forensics, illustrated by their experiences of forensic investigations as varied as the baiting of rabbits and the trapping of protected birds in Britain to the wounding of the last rhinoceros in Vietnam and the killing of a family of gorillas in Central Africa.

The lecture will start at 6pm in Rutherford College Lecture Theatre One and is free and open to all.  The lecture will be followed by a hot supper. The supper cost is £16 per person, and includes a two course meal (hot main meal and gateaux), wine and coffee.   If you would like to book for the supper, please notify Sue Casement, Master’s Assistant, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX by 12 midday Monday 20 May 2013  (booking form below).                                                            Photographs: Copyright – Margaret E Cooper


Friday 24 May 2013

Guests of Honour:   Professor John and Mrs Margaret Cooper

I/We wish to book a place at supper

(£16 per head which includes *two course meal, wine and coffee)

*Beef goulash with rice and seasonal vegetables followed by gateaux (with option of a


vegetarian alternative if booked in advance).

Number of persons @ £16 per head

Registrant Name     ______________________________________________________


Guest Name(s) (if applicable)   ___________________________________________________________



Dietary and Mobility Requirements

Please specify below if you or any of your guests are vegetarian or have any other dietary or mobility requirements




Payment Details:

Please make cheque payable to ‘Unikent’.

I enclose a cheque for the sum of £_________

Please return booking form and payment to Sue Casement, Master’s Assistant, Rutherford College,

University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NX by no later than 12 midday Monday 20 May 2013.

BOOK REVIEW – Parrots and Finches: healthy nutrition

Parrots and Finches: healthy nutrition

176 pages, 45 colour photos.  Price £14.95 post paid

INSiGNIS Publications, Mansfield, Notts.  2012

Rosemary Low

“Reflects Rosemary Low’s half century of keeping and breeding birds” – John Cooper.

This book is the latest by Rosemary Low who is internationally recognised for her work with birds and her many publications.  She was formerly Curator of Loro Parque, Tenerife (the world’s largest parrot collection), and Palmitos Park, Gran Canaria.

The literature advertising this publication explains its genesis.  Concerned at the early deaths of many birds in aviculture apparently attributable to inadequate nutrition, Rosemary decided to compile this book.  In its pages she explains the nutrients contained in various types of foods and how to collect and grow foods that provide nutrients not present in seeds and pellets.  She recommends that at least 30% of a bird’s dietary intake should be provided from fresh food and points out that, for example, seeds and grains that are sprouted provide an excellent protein-rich diet.  The emphasis throughout the book is firmly on the prevention of nutritional deficiencies and adding enjoyment to birds’ lives by providing a varied and interesting diet.

A list of some of the chapter headings indicates the range of topics covered in this book and the “reader-friendly” way in which the information is presented.  Subjects cover:

  • Be organised and Practical
  • Seeds, Grains and their Nutrients
  • Cultivated Fruits, Vegetables and Flowers
  • Nature’s Harvest
  • Grow your Own!
  • Soaking and Sprouting
  • Rearing Foods
  • Calcium and Minerals
  • Suggested Diets for Various Species

There are three chapters about diets in the wild covering Australia, South America, and Africa.  The page of “References Cited” is helpful but could, perhaps, have been more extensive.  It was surprising to see no mention of the work of Michael Stanford, such as his thesis (for Fellowship of the RCVS) on the calcium needs of African grey parrots.  The General Index and Species Index comprise 11 pages and are most helpful.  They include reference to the excellent photographs in the book of birds and foodstuffs.

This is a small, attractively produced, book with excellent colour photographs.  The information it contains reflects Rosemary Low’s half century of keeping and breeding birds and her concern for their health and welfare.  It is eminently practical and very readable.

In his Foreword Alan K Jones MRCVS writes: “In over 40 years as a practising veterinary surgeon, with 30 of those years working with avian patients, it is clear from my experience that a poor, unbalanced, or inadequate diet is the number one cause of disease in captive birds”.  Many of his veterinary colleagues concur with this view and both they and aviculturists would agree that this valuable book is long overdue.

John E Cooper   24/2/13 revised 15/3/13 and 26/3/13

Chester Conference on Forensics: Wildlife Crime and Conservation

Chester Conference on Forensics: Wildlife Crime and Conservation, June

Chester Conference on Forensics: Wildlife Crime and Conservation, June


Cambridge University has a flourishing veterinary zoological society (known to all as the CUVZS), the aims of which are to provide education and training for students in the health and diseases of wildlife, zoo animals and so-called “exotic pets”.  For some years the CUVZS has organised an annual weekend symposium.

CUVZS Cambridge University Veterinary Zoological Symposium

The CUVZS Symposium this year, entitled “In-Situ Conservation: at Home and Abroad“, was held over the weekend of 18-20 January.  Despite snow, cold weather and cancelled trains it attracted a total of 80 students, with representatives from all seven British veterinary schools and from Dublin.

The programme followed the traditional pattern of lectures during the day on Saturday, a formal dinner that evening, and a mixture of lectures and practical sessions on the Sunday.  Formal lectures on Saturday covered a wide range of subjects, including the diverse roles of exotic vets in the UK; interdependence between elephants and people; badger conservation in the UK; the captive-breeding programme of Amur leopards and reintroduction in Russia; zoological medicine – really mixed practice, in the UK and abroad!; disease risk analysis for UK re-introduction programmes; saving species on the edge: from theory to practice, and a thought-provoking presentation entitled “So I’m not a zoo vet and I’m not on TV … is my career over?”.

The Symposium dinner was held at Pembroke College on the Saturday evening and, in keeping with being at Cambridge University’s third oldest College (established 1347), was a grand “black tie” affair.  The after-dinner address was given by Matt Brash, President of the British Veterinary Zoological Society, while the Master of Ceremonies was Jimmie Bost, President of the CUVZS.  As ever, Dr David Chivers was prevailed upon to give his famous (and very realistic) rendering of the call of the gibbon.

Sunday morning opened with a lecture entitled “A Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, Timmy Tiptoes and the Pox”.  This was followed by the practical sessions for which participants were able to choose to attend two sessions chosen from the following:- Nutrition and feeding – hands-on investigation (sponsored by John E Haith Ltd); Raptor essentials; Avian post-mortem examination; General exotics and wildlife post-mortem examination.


Professor John Cooper and Margaret E Cooper.


Miss Rosie Haith and Mrs Rachael Haith


Flotation test


Sally Dowset on certificate duty


Nutrition and feeding – hands-on investigation (sponsored by John E Haith Ltd)


Millie Fitzmaurice and Tom (CUVZS)


Haith’s bird diets


Over lunch tribute was paid to Jimmie Bost, President of CUVZS and his team for their hard work in organising the Symposium, and to Sally Dowsett who had prepared the posters, course notes and certificates for the nutrition session.

Sunday afternoon was devoted to the treatment wildlife.  John and Margaret Cooper gave an introductory talk, entitled “Care, Cure or Conservation? The dilemmas of wildlife rehabilitation” and then led a debate.  The motion was that “This house believes that the rehabilitation of sick and injured wildlife is a waste of money and detrimental to the health, welfare and conservation of the animals concerned” and was proposed forcefully by John Cooper.  Lively discussion ensued.  The motion was soundly defeated, with only two people supporting it.


The first Haith’s PRO Scholarship for Studies in Nutrition, instigated by John E Haith Ltd, the well-known bird food company, has been awarded to a student at a zoo in England.

It has gone to Mr Francis Cabana M.Sc., an intern specialising in zoo nutrition at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, in Devon, South West England. The Zoo is part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust.

“Francis has taken great initiative and we’re proud to support the conservation of rare and endangered species of birds and mammals at Paignton Zoo. Congratulations, Francis,” – Simon King, Haith’s PRO.

The Scholarship will be made in the form of supplies of high-quality bird diets for Mr Cabana’s studies on the nutritional requirements of certain species, some of them Endangered or Vulnerable.  This work will be co-ordinated by Dr Amy Plowman, Director of Conservation, Research and Advocacy for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and Head of Conservation at Paignton Zoo.

Project Title: “Studies on a proprietary diet in selected insectivorous mammals and birds at Paignton Zoo”.

“Ever since I can remember I have had this un-rational empathy for animals that was always at the forefront of my conscience. When I was old enough to understand about endangered species and extinction, I immediately panicked. I refused to live in a world that couldn’t help its elephants and giraffes. I felt like it was up to me to change things.

Everybody wants to work with animals, for one reason or another. This field is very competitive and I wanted to be in it so much that I started volunteering at a pet shop at the age of 14 and halfway through that summer they hired me. This led me to a lot of self-learning and to eventually complete an Applied Zoology degree from McGill University in my home city of Montreal, Canada.


Francis’s first keeper job

By grasping the issues and seeing the bigger picture of conservation, I wanted to explore both the in-situ and  ex-situ projects. That summer I received my first zoo keeping job and I volunteered with Operation Wallacea in the Honduran cloud forests. I quickly learnt that in-situ wasn’t for me and much preferred the work I could do in a zoo. I was later hired by the province’s largest zoo, Granby Zoo, where I truly thrived and learned how zoos operate.

Me doing biodiversity work in Honduras with Bats

Francis doing biodiversity work in Honduras with Bats

I am an ambitious person and I knew I was capable of more. Keeping is amazing and I shall be doing it again in my life no-doubt, but I wanted to contribute directly to conservation, uncover facts and make a little difference. To truly learn what I needed I decided to undertake a Master’s Degree with the one most suited to me being at Plymouth University in England. I had many modules all tailored to increase my research and time management abilities. One module was Animal Nutrition and Metabolism. I did exceedingly well in this module and uncovered a facet of zoo conservation I have never truly seen before.

“Haith’s in turn will receive an in-depth idea of where they stand in the zoo nutrition world in terms of cost, quality of nutrition and have scientific evidence to back it up in the zoo world.”

One of my professors was Dr. Amy Plowman is the Director of Field Conservation, Research and Advocacy  at Paignton Zoo. I can only imagine she saw something in me since she offered me the Zoo Nutrition Intern position. I said yes and have been here since, learning and fine tuning my skills and knowledge every day.

Even if I have matured, I think I am still that little boy who just cannot accept letting species die out of extinction. My scope is now much larger than just elephants and lions and includes entire ecosystems! My irrational empathy has fuelled my passion for conservation and I can safely say that I have found my niche.

Francis Cabana M.S.c

Francis braving the weather – starting his research

Red-billed blue magpies

Red-billed blue magpies

The research grant I have been offered by Haith’s PRO is an amazing opportunity for me, Paignton Zoo and Haith’s. I get to conduct a nice nutrition research project that is of no cost to me or the zoo and  hopefully get a publication under my belt. Paignton Zoo receives significant monetary savings, as well as insights into the eating habits of some of their birds and mammals and perhaps what change is needed for higher welfare and expression of natural behaviours. Haith’s in turn will receive an in-depth idea of where they stand in the zoo nutrition world in terms of cost, quality of nutrition and have scientific evidence to back it up in the zoo world. I am very thankful for this opportunity and will give regular updates on the progress of my research!”

“We are concerned about the health, welfare and conservation of all birds and particularly the role nutrition plays in each of these, which is why we are eager to support Francis Cabana and Paignton Zoo’s nutritional research programme,” explains David Haith – Managing Director of John E Haith Ltd. “The Haith’s Nutritional Scholarship is our way of investing in the future of professional bird-keeping.”

Professor John Cooper – who will oversee the project with the help of his wife Mrs Margaret Cooper – confirms that “A correct diet is essential for all animals, vertebrate and invertebrate, if they are to survive in the wild and to thrive in captivity. However, relatively little is yet known about the nutritional requirements of most species. The introduction of the Haith’s Scholarships is, I believe, an important step towards rectifying the situation while, at the same time, providing much-needed support for research and training in this field”.

The Haith’s Nutritional Scholarships were introduced in 2012 to mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of John E Haith Ltd and its subsequent contributions to the health, welfare and conservation of birds.

Areas of study in which grants are made are primarily:

·             Supplementary feeding of wild birds

·             The provision of appropriate diets to captive (caged, aviary, zoo) birds or other animals and mammals.

·             The role of nutrition in situ or ex situ conservation.

Further information about the Scholarships may be obtained from:

Simon King – Haith’s PRO, The Bird Food Centre, Europarc, Genesis Way, Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, DN37 9TU, UK

Telephone: +44 (0) 1472 357 515

Email: or visit for more information about Haith’s.