AboutZoos, Since 2008


New assess­ment pro­ce­dures could improve wel­fare of zoo animals

pub­lished 27 Octo­ber 2017 | mod­i­fied 27 Octo­ber 2017

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 Five Free­doms
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

(Source: Wikipedia)

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.

Cheetah at Marwell Wildlife

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.

Ensur­ing a high stan­dard of ani­mal wel­fare is para­mount for any zoo, but it has not always been pos­si­ble. This inno­v­a­tive sys­tem will give zookeep­ers clear guid­ance on what they should be look­ing out for in terms of phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics in ani­mals, which will help mon­i­tor their over­all wellbeing.

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.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Sur­rey press release, 19.09.2017; Vet­eri­nary Record research edi­to­r­ial, 03.08.2017)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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