The Detroit Zoological Society’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare (CZAW) has been hosting workshops to train other professionals around the world to assess and improve animal welfare each year since 2012. In that time, more than 50 people have come to the Detroit Zoo to learn more about the ways in which animals are impacted by living in captive settings, and how to address the challenges they face. This year is no different. Another class is here spending five days with us and participating in lectures, discussions, group projects and exercises in the Zoo.
One of the most fun and impactful activities might sound a little silly. We ask the participants to walk around the warthog habitat, first as a human, then as a “warthog”! Every species – and really every individual –experiences the world in different ways. When they are being warthogs, the participants crawl around while wearing goggles that occlude their vision. This is to simulate what it might be like for a warthog living in the habitat, as they rely less on vision than humans do, and to allow each person to get a better sense of how different the world is from the perspective of another species. Once we start to ask ourselves how the animals experience the world we have created for them, we can truly begin to understand what is working for them and what may need to be improved.
One of the goals of CZAW is to provide animal welfare training, and although it is a whirlwind of activity, it is incredibly rewarding for our staff. Not only do we get to meet others who have the same desire to improve the welfare of the animals for which they care, but we get to play a part in helping them to make animal welfare a priority at their own institutions.
Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.