In the past, guarantee of the Five Freedoms was the main focus in zoo animal welfare, and an absence of poor welfare was thought to indicate good welfare. In other words, avoidance of a negative state was regarded as a positive situation. Therefore provision of appropriate enrichment, nutrition and veterinary care were the zookeeper’s objectives.
The United Kingdom has been a frontrunner in official assessment of farm animal welfare. In 1965, the UK government commissioned an investigation into the welfare of intensively farmed animals. The Brambell Report as the result was called – because the investigation was led by Professor Roger Brambell – stated ‘An animal should at least have sufficient freedom of movement to be able without difficulty, to turn round, groom Itself, get up, lie down and stretch its limbs’. Later, in 1979 the Farm Animal Welfare Council codified this list into the well-known list below, that was somewhat incorrectly called Brambell’s Five Freedoms:
Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
Today, however, it is recognised that zoos should actively promote positive welfare states and that assessment of both the physical and psychological wellbeing of individuals is critical. Maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare in zoos is therefore paramount, including assessment procedures animals’ wellbeing. This requires improvement of zoo animal welfare science.
Researchers from Marwell Zoo, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey, trialled a series of monitoring strategies on primates and birds to help zookeepers ensure the health and safety of animals in their care. The introduction of the practice over a period of 13 weeks at two zoological collections in the South of England, clearly demonstrated the level of physical and psychological wellbeing of the animals, and the effect of certain interventions.
The result of the successful trial a new welfare assessment grid is published on 5 August in the journal Veterinary Record. The new assessment procedure requires daily monitoring of a range of factors, such as the animals’ physical condition, their psychological wellbeing and the quality of the environment, as well as the daily procedures they experience. These factors were not all previously part of the regular health checks that zookeepers were required to assess when they were undertaking animal welfare audits. In each area the primates and birds were scored, helping to monitor their progress and highlight any potential problems.
Although welfare protection of zoo animals is enshrined in both European Union and United Kingdom legislation, monitoring it comprehensively in zoos has proven difficult due to the absence of clear and consistent guidance.
Sarah Wolfensohn, Professor of Animal Welfare, University of Surrey
“Zoos are a key part of educating us all about our environment and the animals we share it with across the world, and we all want to know that the animals we do see in zoos are being given the best possible care for their welfare,” says Wolfensohn.