Roehampton and a Multi-University Team Awarded £1.5 million Grant from the Wellcome Trust

  • Monday, April 6, 2020

The grant will research humans inherent tendancy to feed animals in the project “Feed the Birds – Do Not Feed the Animals”.

Image - Roehampton and a Multi-University Team Awarded £1.5 million Grant from the Wellcome Trust

Signs stating ‘Do not feed the animals’ are ubiquitous in zoos, national parks and urban spaces. They stress that uncontrolled feeding by people can affect animal health, alter wild animal behaviour and create public hygiene and nuisance issues. However, humans appear to have a deep-rooted disposition to feed animals.

Many ancient cults fed animals, some modern religions require it, and feeding is often actively encouraged as a tourist attraction. Millions of people feed wildlife in gardens and in 2018, the pet-food industry was worth £2.7 billion in the U.K. alone.

This project will look at our geological history and undertake a cross-cultural investigation to uncover the roots of animal feeding and critique the benefits/risks for all concerned. Particularly, it will test the hypothesis that animal domestication itself was driven by the human penchant for animal feeding and that this process is not just continuing but accelerating, with consequences for global human-animal-environmental health.

The interdisciplinary team is led by Professor Naomi Sykes, a zooarchaeologist from the University of Exeter, and brings together the University of Roehampton’s Professor Garry Marvin and other partners from the University of Reading and the National Museums Scotland. It includes experts in the fields of zooarchaeology, health and rural policy, feline osteology and comparative pathology, environmental geochemistry and anthropology. Garry Marvin, from our Department of Life Sciences, will be responsible for the anthropological aspects of the project.

As part of the project, the Wellcome Trust has awarded the University of Roehampton funding for a three-year post-doctoral researcher to explore the history of human relationships with cats, and a PhD studentship to conduct an ethnographic study of animal feeding in zoos. Roehampton has matched this with a second PhD scholarship which will focus on why feeding wild birds in gardens is such a popular activity.

Our Department of Life Science delivers world class research which impacts lives and furthers our understanding of science. We offer outstanding undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, including a BSc in Anthropology.