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Non-Negotiables in Animal Welfare

We consider some management practices completely unacceptable. If we see these non-negotiable practices taking place when we're carrying out welfare assessments, we urge them to cease immediately in order to improve animal welfare. 
Feeding of live vertebrate animals to other vertebrates

The feeding of live vertebrate prey should be avoided save under exceptional circumstances, and should only be considered in terms of the absolute necessity for doing following veterinary advice and prevailing national animal welfare legislation. In some countries the practice is illegal. Good animal welfare applies to all animals under human care, which includes animals being used for food. An animal can suffer unnecessary stress when being used as food, with potential for injury also being applied to the predator animal too. Where it has to be undertaken, a written justification and ethical review process must have been undertaken and agreed by senior staff weighing up the welfare of predator and prey; feeding must be observed and live prey must not left in the enclosure for more than an hour. Such feeding should not take place in the presence of the public.

Training that involves physical punishment or compromises physical or behavioural health, development or psychological well-being

Training or operant conditioning is required for the treatment, movement and care of animals, to reduce stress and ensure their positive welfare. Animal training is also commonly used for educational and entertainment purposes in zoos and aquariums. Training should use positive reinforcement techniques – where by the animal is rewarded for positive responses. Positive reinforcement training can support good practice, reducing stress during required veterinary care, providing cognitive behavioural stimulation and it can help mitigate boredom. Training techniques involving physical punishment, or training practices that compromise the animal’s physical or behavioural health, development or psychological well-being or those that deliberately inflict injury, pain or fear on animals are not acceptable under any circumstances. 

Animal Mutilation

Wild Welfare considers mutilation procedures for cosmetic or management purposes, or to make an animal safe for handling, unacceptable. Mutilation is defined as an action that deliberately injures, disfigures, or physically changes an animal by permanently removing or irreparably damaging parts of its body. Examples of mutilation include de-clawing and teeth removal. These forms of mutilation can cause physiological and psychological restrictions and severely compromise an animal’s welfare. Pinioning birds for management and/or exhibition purposes is also considered mutilation as the animal’s ability to carry out natural and normal behaviours is physically and permanently compromised.

Animal Shows and Visitor-Animal Interactions that are detrimental to an animal’s physical or psychological well-being

Animal shows or animal-visitor interactions are commonly used in zoos and aquariums. From direct animal contact such as hands-on education or petting areas and touch paddocks, to animal shows and performances, the experiences on offer vary. Under all circumstances, the welfare of the animals must be considered at all times and ensuring positive welfare is of paramount importance. Appropriate monitoring, suitability of species, staff expertise and safety are essential considerations. In all situations where close contact with captive wild animals occurs, it should focus on educating visitors about natural animal behaviours, animal biology and conservation issues. It should be strictly regulated and controlled to adequately protect the welfare of the animals, as well as the health and safety of members of the public.

Any animal demonstrations and animal-visitor interactions that are detrimental to the physical or psychological well-being of animals are unacceptable. Wild Welfare considers photo opportunities and the visitor handling of wild animals an unnecessary activity within zoos and aquariums and direct contact with animals is strongly discouraged. Where it has to be undertaken, a written justification and ethical review process should be undertaken and agreed by senior staff weighing up the welfare of the animal involved with considerate and regular monitoring and evaluation. Animals involved should have received appropriate training, be habituated to such interactions and must always be supervised and under the direct control of an experienced, competent animal keeper.

Animal Restraint that deliberately hinders an animal’s natural behaviour and movement

Animal restraint can be defined as an action that deliberately hinders an animal’s natural behaviour and movement through the use of an artificial restraint tool. Examples of animal restraint include tethering, chaining, or hobbling of an animal’s legs. Wild Welfare considers restraint unacceptable where the restraint purposefully and consistently hinders an animal’s natural behaviour, with no obvious benefits to the animal involved. An example of this would birds of prey used for falconry, shows and demonstrations where the birds are leashed to perches for lengthy periods when not being flown. Such birds should have access to adequate flight aviaries. Acceptable restraint is used during necessary management practices such as transport of the animal, where there are health and welfare benefits for the animal involved. Species-appropriate restraints and handling techniques that are safe for both the animal and the handler should always be considered. Restraint involving leads used during animal shows is only acceptable if appropriate welfare assessment protocols have been adopted and there is continuous monitoring of the animal’s immediate and long-term welfare.

Animal Habitats and Enclosures that severely restrict physical movement and compromise psychological wellbeing

Animal enclosures should be designed to meet the physical, physiological and psychological requirements of the animal at all times and throughout its entire lifetime. An enclosure should be designed to provide opportunities for the animal to perform natural and normal behaviours at all times and have places for refuge from the viewing public. Institutions should only keep animals that can be provided with the appropriate physiological environmental requirements and complexity. Enclosure design must be of a sufficient space, shape and layout that allows for social species to be kept in compatible, non-aggressive groups, but overcrowding must be avoided at all times.

All off-exhibit and quarantine facilities should be of a similar high standard and provide species-appropriate accommodation. Enclosure design should also allow for appropriate human intervention that minimises stress to the animals, including capture, handling, training, cleaning and maintenance, and general husbandry and veterinary practices. An enclosure’s structural design should protect animals from injury as well as aggression between co-specifics. It should be predator proof, well maintained and prevent the spread of parasites. Enclosure design should include appropriate control over temperature, ventilation, lighting, humidity and noise control that meets the species physiological needs. Wild Welfare considers the confinement of animals in barren, unstimulating enclosures that severely restrict physical movement and compromise psychological well-being, unacceptable.

Unregulated Feeding by Visitors

Unregulated feeding is the act of feeding animals by the visiting public within a zoo or aquarium without the supervision of an experienced member of staff. Unregulated feeding can result in unnatural behaviours such as begging, which can lead to stereotypies if left unchecked. It can encourage animals to only utilise one area of their enclosure – where the feeding occurs – and prevents natural and normal feeding behaviours. Unregulated feeding can also cause health-related problems, particularly if inappropriate food is given to the animals. Animal food should not be sold to visitors to discourage public feeding of the animals and the facility should have an active programme to prevent visitor feeding. The institution’s ethics and welfare committee and senior staff members should regularly review regulated and supervised visitor feeding.

Unregulated Breeding of Animals

One of the main objectives of a zoo or aquarium is the propagation of species to support in-situ and ex-situ conservation breeding programmes. As a result, many species of animals are bred in captivity. Breeding can also support appropriate social interactions and positive behaviours. However, unregulated breeding of animals can result in overcrowding, disease, solitary confinement, stress and poor welfare. The breeding of an animal should only be undertaken if it is part of a recognised and cooperative breeding programme and the institution has the veterinary and husbandry expertise and resources to effectively care for every individual within the population. For example, all breeding animals should be provided with appropriate nesting and nursing facilities as well as refuge from the public and aggression from co-specifics, with off-show facilities made available if needed. Newborn animals must be able to receive expert veterinary care and be appropriately integrated into social or compatible groups if relevant. Breeding programmes should be managed to prevent overpopulation and to ensure that each animal or group of animals can be maintained in compliance with a high standard of care.

Find Out More

Wild Welfare has ongoing projects with a number of individual zoos across the world. From conducting welfare assessments in zoos and delivering hands-on training with zoo staff to developing educational materials, addressing legislation gaps in wild animal welfare governance and carrying out research, our work is varied and vast, but is absolutely focussed on improving welfare for wild animals living in captivity around the world.
Find out more about our global projects HERE
Read all our latest updates HERE

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