RELEASE: FIRST STEPS INTO THE WILD

This chapter is 4 min long, with soundtrack (see also "SILENT CLIPS" for extracts)

Chapter size: 40 MB (.mpg) or 7.2MB (.mov).

Topics and Behaviours covered: exploration, sheltering, air sniffing, standing, climbing, swimming, drinking with paw, "wet shake",digging, hopping, (see commentary below)

Chapter Commentary:
Generations of domestication have created a docile subject, easy to keep in captivity. But what ghost of a wild ancestor still lies beneath its white lab coats? Could domestic rats ever rejoin their wild cousins to survive in the wild?

We followed the fate of 50 rats of two different strains, wistar and lister hooded, born and raised in the laboratory, but who, when released in a large outdoor enclosure, would have to compete, like their wild cousins, for shelter, food and mates.

Predictably they are immediately curious, but cautious too. It is after all the first time that they have seen the sky. But is does not take too long before the drive to explore, which has made their wild cousins so successful, takes the better of them, with males venturing out first.

The rats from the hooded strain are more exploratory, ready to venture into the unknown quicker. And they take a welcome opportunity to visit the white females in the other boxes. The rats then check out available shelter, a sensible precaution for a prey. It is a good first sign that these lab rats still have some instinct for survival. But equally, rats have a keen desire to explore. And everything is so new.

Even climbing is new, as laboratory rats are traditionally housed in a two dimensional world, and they investigate the ladder with hesitancy.

It did not take them long to find water, and readily took to it. Rats require a great deal of water, and they often stop for a drink between bites if they can. Soon some developed distinctive ways of drinking. This rat always preferred to drink from her paws, or even from a leaf. Perhaps it was a strategy to remain upright and vigilant.

It is not long before the rats are introduced to yet another new experience, for which they were perhaps less well prepared: a summer storm. And it was a relief to see that most rats were sensible enough to sit it out undercover.

It has only a been a few hours, but the rats have already adopted a hopping gait characteristic of wild rats. And they begin to dig… Something that the lab rats have not been able to do. But they have not forgotten how.

The rats' first day of freedom for 200 generations has been successful. And we left them alone to spend their first night in their new home...