Multidisciplinary Approaches and Assessment Techniques to Better Understand and Enhance Zoo Nonhuman Animal Welfare

Siegford, Janice M. (2013) Multidisciplinary Approaches and Assessment Techniques to Better Understand and Enhance Zoo Nonhuman Animal Welfare, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 16:4, 300-318.

Siegford urges zoos to take a multidisciplinary and measurable approach to improving animal welfare. Previous studies have tended to either focus on a particular measure of stress or to over emphasize observation or enrichment. They often focused on two types of assessments; one is animal-based, which assesses the actual animal and its behaviors. The second is design-based, which assesses aspects of the environment in which the animal is housed, such as the floors or bedding.  In contract Siegford urges all those who care about zoo animal welfare to harness the growing number of ways that scientists can measure animal welfare.  She advocates preference testing in which researchers observe animals’ desires in a variety of controlled experiments or consistent observations.

For example, if an animal is given wood chips and straw in its enclose it can actively choose which one it prefers to lie in. This information can provide researchers with ideas of how to provide better enclosures and welfare to a particular animal. However, preference testing should be conducted at different times of the day and during various seasons in order to accumulate consistent data. Another assessment is instrumental learning, which is where an animal learns a behavior that yields a certain outcome, such as pushing a flap for food. This can help the animals to communicate and indicate needs and wants. Lastly, the emotions of animals can be tested by stimulating and observing brain activity in the brain cells in animals. Furthermore, an animal’s posture, facial expressions, temperament, and vocalizations can indicate emotions, specifically pain or pleasure. She is also hopeful that more research is done on pleasure studies because these would give scientists a much better of idea of how best to improve the whole life of the animal.

Main Points, Potential Applications, and Future Research:

  • The emotions of animals can now be studied and used to better their welfare.
  • Preference testing and instrumental learning allows animals to indicate wants and needs.
  • Future research can focus on pleasure emotions in animals.

Summary by Rachel Cahill

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