Wild Welfare is pleased to report it had a positive trip to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA)’s annual conference in Puebla, Mexico, in October.
While co-hosting a visitor-animal interactions workshop at the conference, Wild Welfare brought the zoo community’s current animal interaction landscape up for discussion and information was shared on how best to secure good practices moving forward. In a world where the growth in visitor-animal interactions (VAIs) in zoos has exceeded the ability to ensure appropriate standards are always met, the safety, welfare and needs of the animals involved is not always being put first. This means swift action is needed to bring about good practice guidelines that all accredited zoos can follow, not just a few. These can help to ensure that any animal interactions are appropriate and measured, individuals do not suffer as a result of any human contact and people themselves are not put at any risk.
Our director, Georgina Allen tells us more: “Zoos and aquariums have seen a rapid growth in a variety of interactive experiences in recent years. Although animal interactions are popular and their potential as informative and educational experiences is often cited as justification for their use, the welfare impact of such interactions is still relatively unknown. For example, the use of young, nocturnal, social and even potentially dangerous animals are prevalent in close contact/encounter opportunities globally, and there is still relatively little agreement on the impact these interactions have on their individual or their conspecific’s welfare.
“We’re delighted to be part of a growing number of professionals within the accredited zoo community, who are reviewing current VAI processes and guidelines to ensure appropriate best practice standards and parameters are in place, that will hopefully ensure full and proper protection is given to the animals involved.”
Also present at the conference was our field director, Dave Morgan, who sat on a panel of eight international zoo directors for a welfare committee meeting. Mr Morgan discussed some of the specific animal welfare issues in zoos, that Wild Welfare feels are important for zoo directors to recognise. Issues including: seeing welfare from an animal’s experience, rather than from preconceived notions of what welfare should be; the need for ongoing welfare auditing, both of whole collections and individual animals; the practice of non-negotiables, such as unregulated animal feeding by visitors and overbreeding; and input from external welfare partners.
Mr Morgan said: “The discussion provoked lively exchanges, but what impressed me was that despite some conservative and reactionary views, overall the general sentiments indicated a high degree of commonality.
“There was a good understanding of the need to provide for positive welfare in collections and zoo directors and senior staff were by and large, comfortable in discussing very sensitive animal welfare issues.”