Animal Welfare: Welfare Assessments

One of the goals of the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics is to conduct and facilitate animal welfare assessments. In some cases, this entails conducting scientific research aimed at answering questions such as how animals respond to changes in their habitats or modifications to the ways in which we care for them.  For example, and as you may have read about in previous blog entries, we assessed the impact of new or expanded habitats on the welfare of Madagascar giant hog-nosed snakes, penguins and grizzly bears at the Detroit Zoo, just to name a few. We also pose questions related to providing animals with stimulating experiences that allow them to engage in species-appropriate behaviors, such as increasing exploration in aardvarks and enhancing natural feeding opportunities for species like seals and gorillas. The more we can learn about how our animal care and management practices influence the welfare of animals, the more we can do to ensure they are thriving.

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Although multi-faceted studies like the ones mentioned above are an important part of this endeavor, developing means to more rapidly evaluate the welfare status of individual animals is also a critical goal. Welfare assessments therefore also take the form of proactive and ongoing monitoring that provides an overview of the current welfare state of individual animals. To that end, the Detroit Zoological Society developed a welfare assessment tool in 2014 which was made freely available in a peer-reviewed publication in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Sciencein 2015. If you would like to read the full article, please visit our resource center on the CZAAWE website at czaw.org/resources and click on the link for A Universal Animal Welfare Framework for Zoos.

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Since that time, we have continued to refine the animal welfare assessment tool to evaluate how the animals living at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are faring, as well as train other accredited organizations in the use of the tool. In its present form, the assessment tool includes measures of inputs, which focus on what is provided to animals, such as amount and complexity of their space, the social opportunities they have and their dietary considerations. The tool also incorporates measures of outputs, which are how the animals respond to what is provided to them. We try to make sure that we have output measures that match up with the questions about the inputs. For example, the outputs we would use to correspond to the inputs I listed as examples would include questions about how the animals use their habitat, if they interact with other animals that share their space in the manner we would expect and if they are in good body condition. The questions in the animal welfare assessment tool line up with the Five Domains model of welfare, which delineates how nutrition, physical health, behavior and the environment (both physical and social) feed into an animal’s emotional state.

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Organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which we have been a member of since 1985, continue to place increasing importance on ensuring animals in their care are experiencing positive welfare, and this responsibility is reflected in the very standards by which member organizations must abide to be accredited. One of the newer standards requires AZA members to have a welfare assessment process like the one the Detroit Zoological Society has in place. It is great to see that our professional community is committed to not only provide good care for animals, but to provide them with great welfare.

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– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics.

 

DreamNight – A Night to Remember

The Detroit Zoological Society hosted more than 500 guests for DreamNight, a private nighttime event for families that include a child with special needs or chronic illnesses. The goal of this event was to provide an opportunity for families to spend time, all together, in a stress-free environment. This was the first event of its kind held at the Detroit Zoo, and we were delighted with the reception of the event as well as the outcome.

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DreamNight brought families to the Zoo from around Michigan and parts of Canada. Excited and happy faces emerged as guests walked through the front gates. Without the crowds, many were able to make observations of the animals and experience the Zoo, without being overwhelmed. Penguins were a huge favorite with kids and adults alike. Some children needed the quieter buildings to enjoy the animals who live in the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, National Amphibian Conservation Center or Arctic Ring of Life.

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We saw looks of pure joy as children, for the first time, watched penguins swimming. Parents showed relief on their faces as they observed their children watching the animals or exploring the hands-on opportunities. Entire families explored activities together  ̶̶  talking and playing through their shared experiences. We were also grateful for an excited group of staff and volunteers, ready and willing to support each family as they explored the Zoo.

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Throughout the event, families enjoyed dinner, courtesy of Service Systems Associates (SSA), our catering partner, who donated a vast majority of the food and labor for the evening. Stations with hands-on activities were spread throughout the Zoo, which invited guests to explore butterfly wings with handheld microscopes or play with sand in front of the camel habitat or weigh out food for an otter’s diet. Face painting, donated by Kaman’s Art Studio, was also available for all who attended. Our Zooper Hero mascots celebrated with us, and were loved by the families in attendance. Many children danced along to the music from a live band and watched a sensory-friendly version of the 4-D movie in the theater.

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We had an amazing time meeting these wonderful families and getting to know them. The Detroit Zoological Society strives every day to ensure that our entire community is welcomed within our organization. We have recently been certified through the The KultureCity® Sensory Inclusive™ program, which helps us to think strategically about how we can prepare guests before they arrive and provide a positive experience while they are here. Staff and volunteers have participated in training to be aware of our guests needs and learn strategies for supporting them during their visits. Sensory-friendly bags, which contain headphones, fidget items and a feeling thermometer, are available to be checked out to use throughout the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. We look forward to hosting future events like DreamNight and ensuring that all families can experience the Detroit Zoo.

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.