As indicated in the statement of the journal’s aims and scopes, “The Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) publishes articles on methods of experimentation, husbandry, and care that demonstrably enhance the welfare of nonhuman animals in various settings.” To this end, “JAAWS publishes papers that present new empirical data or a reevaluation of available data, conceptual or theoretical analysis, or demonstrations relating to some issue of animal welfare science.” The first issue of JAAWS was published in 1998, 25 years ago.

To commemorate this notable anniversary, the editors and the publisher are happy to provide access links to the full texts of selected articles that have been published over the years. The plan is to announce three different articles as free to access every month for four months beginning this September and running through December. The open access for each article will last three months. Each month, we will feature articles from one of the four content areas of the journal – animals in zoos and in the wild, companion animals, animals in agriculture, and animals in research. Each set will be introduced by a brief text describing the history of research in that section over the 25-year period. The first set of articles are studies of animals in zoos and in the wild. The associate editors of this section are Doug Whiteside, University of Calgary; Sally Sherwen, Zoos Victoria, Australia; and Marieke Gartner, Zoo Atlanta.

Ken Shapiro, Editor Emeritus

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Over the last several decades, animal welfare has become a major concern in many parts of the world. Most recently, and perhaps driven by growing community expectations of high standards of welfare and greater awareness and concern for animals in captivity, zoos appear to have changed their priorities toward assessment and promotion of positive welfare of the animals in their care. The result has been tremendous growth and diversification in zoo-based science that heretofore focused on the impact of captive environments on animal behavior.

The past 25 years have seen a great deal of progress in the field of animal welfare science, particularly for wild animals in human care. Not only has the number of papers targeting zoo animal welfare significantly increased, but the scope of the entire field has broadened. Resource-based assessments of the welfare of captive populations of animals have given way to assessments of welfare using outcome-based approaches that include measures of the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of individuals. This has occurred across a wider array of species.

There is also a growing diversity in the scale of research being published. Articles range from single-site case studies – using behavioral observations, to larger, multi-zoo experimental work, to much larger multi-institutional epidemiological studies. This broadly encourages publication and enhanced learning at all scales of research and contributes to a better knowledge base.

There also appears to be a broadening in the diversity in topics studied. Topics have expanded beyond environmental enrichment, enclosure design, and abnormal behavior. Although enrichment and enclosure design remains the most frequently addressed welfare topics, investigations in such areas as individual differences, assessment techniques, and cognition are increasingly represented in the literature. Studies of animal-keeper interactions are also being published much more frequently. The significance of this important relationship is coming to light.

During the past decade, we have also seen a shift to the primacy of the individual rather than the species/groups when assessing welfare. The focus of research has shifted away from species-specific resource allocations to output measures of individuals. Researchers have begun to focus on measures of consistent individual characteristics (e.g., personality) and refined methods that help discern the individual animal’s perspective (e.g., cognitive bias). Additionally, indicators of poor welfare such as repetitive behavior have been reexamined and alternative explanations and more nuanced interpretations proposed (e.g., anticipatory behavior). Researchers have begun to ask animals what they think and in some cases they have answered.

Still, there are some surprising omissions. Despite the widespread prevalence of human-animal interaction programs in zoos and aquariums globally, studies of these types of interactions have been and remain poorly represented in the published literature. Additionally, with some notable exceptions, considerations of an animals’ understanding of its environment from a sensory perspective, also remain poorly represented.

As the scope and scale of welfare studies expanded and the topics of study changed, so too have welfare metrics. Behavior remains the most frequently used welfare parameter. Tried and true physical measures such as body condition scales also remain common. However, additional physiological (e.g., heart rate, respiration, and body temperature) and behavioral indicators (e.g., judgment bias tests and anticipatory behavior) of well-being that can be determined non-invasively are in development. Interestingly, the use of hormones, especially glucocorticoids, has been declining over the last 15 years. We are observing growth of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

The growing concern about the welfare of wild animals in the wild has also resulted in an increased number of publications. This area of concern is so broad that the topics of study have yet to coalesce around central topics, theories, or methodologies. Publications address diverse and important issues such as animal tourism, urbanizing wildlife, impact of collection of wildlife for captive programs, illegal wildlife trade, impacts of capture and handling of wildlife for conservation purposes, and human/wildlife conflict.

Although the taxa represented in the current animal welfare research are still heavily biased toward mammals, the increased numbers of publications include a greater representation of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even insects. We have seen notable increases in the numbers of reptile welfare manuscripts, particularly snakes and turtles. We anticipate a more equitable representation of all taxa in the future.

Finally, the welfare of wildlife (captive held or in the wild) is now a global concern. Research on this topic is occurring globally, and this is reflected in the growing international authorship of manuscripts published in the JAAWS. We are proud to have the work of scientists from so many different countries represented in the Journal.

Bacon, H., Vigors, B., Shaw, D. J., Waran, N., Dwyer, C. M., & Bell, C. (2021). Zookeepers – The most important animal in the zoo?Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 1–13.

Eagan, T. (2019). Evaluation of enrichment for reptiles in zoosJournal of Applied Animal Welfare Science22(1), 69–77.

Vail, C. S., Reiss, D., Brakes P., & Butterworth, A. (2020). Potential welfare impacts of chase and capture of small cetaceans during drive hunts in JapanJournal of Applied Animal Welfare Science23(2), 193–208.

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