Here at Zoo Science for Keepers and Aquarists we have been very lucky to get two paper suggested by Dr. Geoff Hosey, Honorary Professor, University of Bolton. Dr Geoff Hosey was formerly a senior lecturer at the University of Bolton, UK, where he taught in the area of animal behaviour. This eminent zoo scientist has co-authored an important text book (Zoo Animals: Behaviour and Management) which is used throughout the UK as an undergraduate textbook for zoo biology. Geoff has published over 30 peer reviewed research papers on zoo animals and is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums Research Committee. As such is great to see what he thinks are important papers that the likes of you and I should read.
Melfi, V. A. (2009), There are big gaps in our knowledge, and thus approach, to zoo animal welfare: a case for evidence-based zoo animal management. Zoo Biol., 28: 574–588.
There are gaps in knowledge that hinder our ability within zoos to provide good animal welfare. This does not mean that zoos cannot or do not provide good welfare, only that currently this goal is hindered. Three reasons for these gaps are identified as: (1) there is an emphasis on the identification and monitoring of indicators that represent poor welfare and it is assumed that an absence of poor welfare equates to good welfare. This assumption is overly simplistic and potentially erroneous; (2) our understanding of how housing and husbandry (H&H) affects animals is limited to a small set of variables determined mostly by our anthropogenic sensitivities. Thus, we place more value on captive environmental variables like space and companionship, ignoring other factors that may have a greater impact on welfare, like climate; (3) finally, whether intentional or not, our knowledge and efforts to improve zoo animal welfare are biased to very few taxa. Most attention has been focused on mammals, notably primates, large cats, bears, and elephants, to the exclusion of the other numerous species about which very little is known. Unfortunately, the extent to which these gaps limit our ability to provide zoo animals with good welfare is exacerbated by our over reliance on using myth and tradition to determine zoo animal management. I suggest that we can fill these gaps in our knowledge and improve our ability to provide zoo animals with good welfare through the adoption of an evidence-based zoo animal management framework. This approach uses evidence gathered from different sources as a basis for making any management decisions, as good quality evidence increases the likelihood that these decisions result in good zoo animal welfare.
And Geoff thinks…
This advocates the importance of approaching animal welfare in the zoo from a scientific, empirical base, to replace the anecdotal, experiential approach which has long been prevalent in zoos. In other words, it is not enough to do what we think will improve welfare, we have to support what we do with proper empirical, peer-reviewed evidence.
Can’t argue with that! Next up…
Veasey, J. S., Waran, N. K., and Young, R. J. (1996) ‘On comparing the behaviour of zoo-housed animals with wild conspecifics as a welfare indicator’, Animal Welfare, 5: 13–24.
It is commonly assumed that animals suffer if they cannot perform behaviours seen in wild conspecifics. Although comparisons with the behaviour of wild conspecifics are a popular method of assessing the welfare of captive animals, their validity has not been fully assessed. Homeostatic models of motivation suggest that many behaviours are stimulus driven rather than internally generated. Thus, it is possible that the non-performance of some wild-type behaviours does not necessarily compromise animal welfare, unless welfare is defined as being compromised by such non-performance. The flexibility of wild animal behaviour and the fact that animals free to perform the complete range of wild behaviours can suffer, must also put into the question the validity of such comparisons. Technical criticisms also arise when one considers the difficulty of constructing accurate and unbiased time budgets for wild animals. It is possible that the expressions of wild-type behaviours correlate with enhanced welfare, rather than cause enhanced welfare. Thus, if the consequences of behaviour are more important than the expression of behaviour itself, environmental enrichment does not necessarily need to rely upon the performance of wild-type behaviours for the improvement of animal welfare. Therefore, although behavioural comparisons with wild animals can be considered as potentially useful indicators of behavioural differences, they cannot always be relied upon to give an objective assessment of animal welfare. To make an assessment of welfare, behavioural comparisons with wild animals should be used in conjunction with other techniques to demonstrate that the consequences of non-performance of wild behaviours results in impoverished welfare.
And Geoff thinks…
Many people tend to a default position that “wild is best”, so any deviation from this in captivity is seen as poor for welfare. Jake Veasey’s paper shows clearly how this line of reasoning is flawed, and how wild-captive comparisons need to be interpreted very carefully
Look out for more suggested reading from top zoo scientists – if you have anyone you’d like to get suggestions from get in touch and we will see what we can do 🙂