Zoo Animal Welfare

Zoo Animal Welfare
Terry L. Maple, Bonnie M. Perdue
Springer, 2013


Book review by Kara Chirgwin and Monika Fiby

"Zoos have the marvelous potential to develop a concerned, aware, energized, enthusiastic, caring and sympathetic citizenry. Zoos can encourage gentleness toward all other animals and compassion for the wellbeing of wild places ... To help save all wildlife, to work toward a healthier planet, to encourage a more sensitive populace - these are the goals for the new zoos." (David Hancocks)

In 'Zoo Animal Welfare', Maple and Perdue explore the ethics, practices and standards of modern zoos by incorporating medical, psychological, biological and scientific information that is essential to advancing animal welfare.

The definition of 'animal welfare' has changed over time. Early animal welfare was species specific, and usually only referred to major concerns such as the prevention of cruelty, pain and suffering, or the freedom from hunger, thirst and fear etc. Therefore the aim was to reduce or eliminate symptoms and negative behaviours associated with these.

More recent animal welfare considers the management of animals, the value of conservation, natural living conditions, social habits and the ability to enrich, educate, and entertain. The primary goal in current years is to identify responses that indicate a positive affect on the animal, and to further develop positive welfare measures.

'Welfare' here is complemented by 'wellness' or 'wellbeing'. Wellness is understood as "a balance of mind, body and spirit that results in an overall feeling of wellbeing". In zoo terms, husbandry techniques that produce healthy, active, fit and well animals will achieve good welfare.

Zoo Animal Welfare provides descriptions of methods to measure welfare and offers suggestions as to which method of measure is most suitable for various individual assessment criteria, e.g. 'Preference & Motivation' tests, 'Cognitive Bias' assessments, and 'Data Collection', to name a few.

Wellness on the other hand, can be measured via daily checklists to ensure the animal appears active, alert, moving normally, eating and drinking, etc.

According to Maple and Perdue, the foundations for developing the best practices in animal welfare and management are biology and psychology. Until recently, psychology was not recognized as being a useful field to support zoos. However, cognitive, comparative, developmental and social psychologists can get involved in zoos, taking on roles such as scientists, curators, educators and administrators.

Psychological science can be defined as the 'study of behaviour and mental life'. When researching animal behaviour, psychologists have revealed an understanding of typical behaviours observed in captive zoo animals that are generally not evident in the wild. Concrete boxes with steel bars and a fixed routine of cleaning and feeding deprives the animal of sensory and social stimulation and satisfaction. The animal substitutes this loss by distorting its behaviours to adapt to the conditions in which they are being housed.

Abnormal behaviours can lead to visitors feeling sorry for the animals and blaming the institution for their ignorance. "Perceptions of poor welfare should be a warning that intervention is necessary for the good of the animal and the zoo's reputation".

A welfare oriented approach to zoo design prevents the occurrence of abnormal behaviours. A good design encourages activity and exploration. "Healthy animals with stimulating behavioural choices tend to be more active". (Jon Coe)

Environmental enrichment programs have also been endorsed to cure distorted behaviours. 'Enrichment' relates to offering choices within the animal's environment and by adding sensory stimuli, both aiming at behavioural opportunities that benefit the animal. Enrichment has been considered a major contributor to good animal welfare and conceptualized in many ways:

  • Structural Enrichment:
    Creating, modifying and re-arranging an animal's environment so that it generates choice and interest tends to be long-term or semi-permanent.

  • Social Interaction:
    It was suggested, "friendship buffered the effects of stress and boosted physiological repair mechanisms conducive to longevity and good health." (Joan Silk) Physical contact between animals is enriching for many species. However, in a zoo environment there may be limitations restricting such contact. One alternative is to select doors / barriers / partitions that allow animals to see, hear, smell and touch individuals on the other side.

  • Human-Animal Interaction:
    Daily cleaning, feeding, exercising and medicating are all forms of interaction generally performed by animal keepers and veterinary staff. Positive reinforcement training can encourage a willingness of the animal to cooperate, which in return reduces stress levels for the animals and for staff and increases work safety.

  • Feeding:
    Manipulating the food or the manner in which it is delivered may occur by hiding and scattering the food around the enclosure, placing the food into a bigger object (puzzle) for the animal to get it out of, or dividing one meal into smaller rations and varying the time, place and position of feeds.

  • Tactile Enrichment:
    Providing objects that are physically stimulating for the animal. These could be given in the form of objects (e.g. rope, branches) or materials (e.g. hay, water) that the animal can explore and manipulate.

  • Auditory, Olfactory and Visual Enrichment:
    Gratifying the animal's audio expectations can be done by mimicing sounds from the animal's natural surroundings and by providing other appropriate sounds.

  • Cognitive Enrichment:
    Cognitive enrichment is the process of challenging an animal's memory, judgment, perception, attention, learning and problem solving abilities. A reward is offered to the animal immediately following a correct response.

Zoo Animal Welfare recognizes the power, potential, and public expectations of zoos, and the effect they have on the animals and the visitors who come to see them. This book is an inspiring reference guide that demonstrates how to improve results in the field of animal welfare in zoos.