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Measuring Welfare of Captive Wild Animals

To understand what constitutes good welfare in captive animals, we must find a way to successfully assess and measure welfare. This is not always an easy task due to different species and their varying needs, as well as the consideration of their individual needs. However, in more recent years, science-based assessment of animal welfare in captive animals has benefited from increased interest in and research into consciousness, emotions, stress and pain. In the past, the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare have successfully acted as a foundation, defining and underpinning fundamental animal welfare standards and considerations.

Yet whilst past focuses have been on negative experiences and minimising distress, recent concepts have led to the consideration of positive factors and the development of various positive welfare measures. This encourages the management of animals to promote positive experiences and mental states. The model of the Five Domains of Potential Welfare Compromise has evolved since its original development and illustrates how compromises in an animal’s nutrition, environment, health and behavior can all impact upon its mental state. These five domains may overlap and have combined effects on the overall welfare status of an individual animal and thus The ‘Five Domains’ concept can serve to offer a useful framework for the broad assessment of animal welfare.

With this in mind, implementing management techniques and standards that promote positive physical and mental health for every species accommodated within zoological institutions, whilst also preventing unpleasant experiences for the animal, is fundamental to the care of wild animals in captivity. This can be accomplished by, for example, providing appropriate nutrition to meet the animal’s biological needs which is presented in a manner to satisfy its feeding behaviour requirements, the provision of environmental choices, access to con-specifics if appropriate, and access to a complex, variable and stimulating environment, in addition to the continued provision of high standards of both husbandry and veterinary care.

A positive affective state arising from the presence of positive experiences and sensations, with the avoidance of, or minimal, negative experiences, is therefore important to safeguard and ensure good animal welfare and this can be achieved when the physical (nutritional, environmental, health and behavioral) as well as psychological needs are addressed (Mellor 2013, Portas 2013). Although an individual’s mental state and hence its welfare can vary from one point in time to the next as the different sensations it may experience during its lifetime change. (Mellor 2013, Portas 2013), thus, it is the complex interactions between each of the five domains that, in combination, may determine an animal’s overall welfare status.

Five Domains model 

In the Five Domains model, the four physical or functional domains (nutrition, environment, health and behavior) are concerned with biological function, or physical wellbeing, and the fifth domain, the mental state, considers the ‘affective state’ or psychological wellbeing. This affective state represents the animal’s overall subjective feelings and experiences and hence this fifth domain is a key element of animal welfare. An animal may have positive or negative emotional states and it is the balance between these subjective experiences that can influence an individual animal’s ‘Quality of Life’ (Mellor 2013).

Animal Welfare Legislation

A vast majority of captive wild animal collections are not influenced by national or international legislation or by codes of ethics or professional best practice. Lack of legislation or proper guidance can consequently lead to poor captive animal management, resulting in a real concern for the welfare and husbandry of the animals within these collections.

Equally, captive wild animal collections around the world with poor standards of animal welfare, often reflecting a lack of financial support, are frequent participants and catalysts in the burgeoning illicit wildlife trade and credible rescue groups and professional sanctuaries are brimming with animals confiscated from illegal activity.

Wild Welfare addresses the critical captive animal welfare issues that can arise in these unregulated collections and works towards improving care and welfare conditions for wild animals in captivity.

More about Legislation

Zoo Accreditation

Most zoological associations have an accreditation system for their member zoos. For example, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in America, currently has approx 230 (as of October 2018) accredited members. This system fills a gap in legislature and in most cases means official recognition and approval of a zoo or aquarium by a group of experts.

Zoo and aquarium members must meet the needs of the animals in their care by understanding what constitutes good welfare, and by providing appropriate housing and husbandry. This system therefore helps towards the management and regulation of members, ensuring best practice and a high standard in the fields of conservation, education and welfare.

Wild Welfare is working with zoo associations around the world to ensure that the most up to date guidance is used for future welfare assessments and criteria. 

More about Accreditation

Ethical Frameworks & Welfare

The World Association of Zoos and Aquarium (WAZA), is an umbrella organisation for a network of zoological associations and their members. With more than 700 million visitors yearly to their members, the goal of WAZA is to guide, encourage and support the zoos, aquariums and like-minded organisations of the world in animal care and welfare, environmental education and global conservation.

Wild Welfare works in conjunction with the association wherever relevant, providing support on the creation of a proposed ethical framework document for use by WAZA. We worked alongside other animal welfare NGOs and WAZA’s ethics and welfare committee to drive forward the WAZA Animal Welfare Strategy and continue to support WAZA in the development of appropriate welfare guidance and standards. 

More about Animal Welfare Assessments

Find Out More

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.
Read our latest project updates on the News and Blog page
Learn More about our individual projects on Our Projects page

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