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.

 

Animal Welfare: Grizzly Bears Really Dig Their Expanded Habitat

As part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) commitment to ensuring individual animals experience great welfare, a significant expansion of the grizzly bears’ habitat was undertaken in 2018. The male grizzly bears living at the Detroit Zoo, Mike, Thor and Boo, are brothers who were rescued in Alaska after their mother was killed and the cubs began foraging too close to humans. At approximately one year of age, they were too young to properly care for themselves and the DZS provided them with a safe place to grow up. The bears are now eight years old and weigh approximately 900 pounds.

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The expansion doubled the amount of space for the bears and also increased the number of environmental features in the habitat, including caves and substrates such as grass and mulch. When we make changes that affect the lives of animals, it is important that we understand how those changes impact them. To that end, we collected data the fall prior to construction to obtain a baseline of the bears’ behavior and hormone levels. Observations continued during construction and ended two months after the bears moved back into their renovated home. Zookeepers also filled out surveys and collected fecal samples each day.

We were happy to see that, in general, the construction itself had little impact on the bears. We had the zookeepers keep track of things like appetite and interest in participating in positive reinforcement training, and the bears did not show any changes to these behavioral indicators of welfare. Additionally, their glucocorticoid concentrations did not change during construction, suggesting that the bears did not perceive this to be a stressful time period. We did see some fluctuation in how much time each bear was visible outside, depending on how loud the construction activities were. Only one of the bears, Mike, spent more time inside (and out of sight) when the construction noise reached higher levels. Individual animals, just like people, perceive experiences differently, and therefore may react differently.

When we compared how and where the bears spent their time before and after the expansion, we had some interesting results. The bears made use of all of the substrates and features in the expanded habitat. They were very excited to gain access to a mulberry tree that had previously been part of one of the side bear habitats. Mulberry is enjoyed by many species at the Detroit Zoo and the grizzly bears are no exception. Mike very industriously spent time trying to uproot the tree to make it easier to eat all the delicious berries! All three bears also enjoyed digging up, excavating if you will, various sections of the habitat. One thing that did not change was Thor’s affinity for his rock “pillow”. There is a large boulder-sized rock formation high up in the original habitat space on which you can sometimes find him resting his head. Thor still very much enjoys giving the rock a bear hug as he catches up on some sleep!

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Not only did the expansion mean the bears had more environmental choices, but the additional features had an impact on their social dynamics as well. With more space and more options within that space, the bears could spread out and all spend time in areas that met their needs, rather than sharing, or having to wait to use the features. This also translated into even more positive relationships between the brothers. We did see Boo practice his best “little brother” moves in the expanded habitat. He will come as close to Mike as possible until Mike finally swats or chases him away. I definitely experienced that with both of my little brothers growing up! It is possible that with more space, Boo enjoys getting a reaction from Mike and having plenty of room for the game of “catch me if you can” that may follow.

The expanded space has given the grizzly bears more behavioral opportunities and the ability to make more choices about how and where to spend their time, as well as how much of that time they want to spend near one another. The DZS is always striving to create habitats that promote great welfare and increased choice is an important part of that.

– 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.

 

The Heat is On

Summer is in full swing, and with it comes higher temperatures. Detroit Zoological Society staff ensure the animals who live at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are comfortable, regardless of what the thermometer says.

In some cases, this means giving animals the choice to either remain in their outdoor habitat or venture inside when temperatures soar. Think about how great you feel when you come into an air-conditioned building after spending time outside! But should they choose to remain outdoors, we ensure their habitats always incorporate multiple areas where the animals can find shade. The amount and location of the shaded areas change with the sun’s movement, and that stimulates the animals to move around in order to thermoregulate, just as they would in the wild. For example, you can often find the lions resting in the alcoves in the wall of their habitat, and built-in caves will serve a similar purpose in the soon-to-open Devereaux Tiger Forest. The pool on the polar bears’ “pack ice” side of the Arctic Ring of Life is even chilled!

For many of the animals, such as the eland, deer, ostrich and flamingos, animal care staff set up sprinklers and misters that can be moved around to create cool areas. Staff also make wallows for the rhinos, who cool down by covering themselves in mud. You may even see some animals enjoying “popsicles”, made by freezing pieces of fruit and vegetables or even fish, depending on the species. Keeping the animals both comfortable and stimulated is part of ensuring great welfare.

These practices are meant to not only keep the animals comfortable, but safe as well. Humans can suffer from serious heat-related issues, and the same is true for other animals. My dog really loves to go for long walks; however, during the summer, we make more of an effort to stay off the pavement and asphalt, and to walk in the shade whenever possible. Dogs don’t sweat to cool off like we do; they cool themselves through their foot pads and by panting, and pavement can heat up to 140 degrees when it is only 80 degrees outside. I also make sure to bring plenty of water with me for both of us!

My dog also enjoys going for car rides, but we have to remember that leaving any animal in a car that isn’t running can be very dangerous. Temperatures inside a parked car can rise very quickly, so leaving our animal companions at home in these instances is safer. It is our responsibility to keep the animals in our care safe, healthy and happy, whether they live at the Zoo or in our homes.

– 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.

Join us in Supporting Legislation that will Protect Pets

As temperatures continue to rise in Michigan, we are reminded of the danger in leaving dogs in cars. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car can rise to more than 100 degrees in under 10 minutes, even if the sky is cloudy and the windows are cracked. As a result, dogs can suffer heat-related illnesses and may die before help has a chance to arrive.

Unfortunately, Michigan does not currently protect those who directly intervene if they see a dog suffering in a hot car. House Bill 4092 would give immunity from criminal prosecution to those who forcibly enter a vehicle to rescue an animal. Many states have such laws, but we are not yet one of them. We encourage members of the community to contact your state representative and urge them to support this legislation. This bill can not only save lives, but protect those who stand up to help.

The Detroit Zoological Society recently hosted our bi-annual Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo, the nation’s largest off-site animal adoption event, in partnership with the Michigan Humane Society. Our staff shared with attendees the dangers of leaving pets in cars and thankfully, most of them were already aware of this and the importance of calling the police if they witness this occurring. Many wanted to know how else they could help, and we provided postcards and contact information for each of their state representatives, as well as sample messaging to support House Bill 4092. We collected and distributed 165 postcards from this event.

The DZS’s Berman Academy for Humane Education exists to help people help animals. One way we do this is by providing opportunities for community members to take action in ways that have positive, lasting impacts on animals.

You can look up your state representative and their contact information here. We also encourage you to consider writing to your elected officials about other legislation that affects animals – you can find an updated list of Michigan and federal legislation here.

– Dr. Stephen Vrla is the curator of humane education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

Kindergartners Detail Good “Zoo Manners” for Guests

It is important for young people to know their voice matters – even as young as 5 years old. At this age, they are at an important developmental stage as they develop self-awareness, are reflective of their own emotions, and begin to recognize emotions in others. It’s an important time to build empathy skills and reverence towards all living beings.

The Detroit Zoological Society received a note from the kindergarten teachers at Bemis Elementary in Troy as they were preparing for a trip to the Detroit Zoo. The teachers were wrapping up a unit on persuasive writing with their students and wanted to provide an authentic writing assignment that would combine literacy skills with their upcoming trip, so they asked their students to brainstorm visitor behaviors that can have a positive or negative impact on the environment and the well-being of the animals at the Zoo.

The class compiled a list of behaviors that could negatively impact animals, including tapping on the glass of habitats in the Holden Reptile Conservation Center or the National Amphibian Conservation Center, not properly disposing of recycling and trash, feeding or chasing peafowl, and straying from public paths. Each student chose a topic and wrote a letter, drew a poster or crafted a petition to persuade all visitors to take care of the Zoo.

Once the letters, petitions and posters were complete, the students recorded a short video sharing why they chose their topic and showcasing their final pieces. They brought all of their work with them when they visited the Zoo. Each of their petitions was read, their drawings admired and their delightful phonetic spelling was decoded.

In addition to practicing persuasive writing skills, the students arrived ready to spend the day enjoying the habitats while acting as ambassadors for the Zoo. The teachers’ mentorship was instrumental in this process. They provided a supportive environment that the students could learn and grow in, ultimately empowering the students to take action.

The Detroit Zoological Society celebrates all young people working towards a better future for all living beings. If you know of a young person who is making a positive difference in their community, we encourage you to nominate them for the Detroit Zoological Society Humane Youth Award to recognize their work. Nominations are open through August 1, 2019. Learn more and submit a nomination here.

– Claire Lannoye Hall is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Fundraising Gala Highlights New Habitats that Promote Great Animal Welfare

Whenever we design and construct a new animal habitat, our focus is on ensuring it is expansive, naturalistic and meets the animals’ specific needs. These spaces should provide the animals with opportunities to do the things that are important to them – be it climbing trees, swimming, wallowing in the mud, and interacting with social partners (or avoiding social partners if that’s what they want at any given time).

Attendees of the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS’s) annual fundraising gala, Sunset at the Zoo, on Friday, June 7, will have the opportunity to observe two newly renovated and expanded spaces in the Detroit Zoo’s Asian Forest that succeed in doing just that.

A few months ago, red pandas Ash, Ravi and Ta-shi moved into the Holtzman Wildlife Foundation Red Panda Forest. DZS staff immediately began making observations to determine the effect of the new space on the well-being of the animals. We call this a “post-occupancy evaluation” – in this case, it consisted of behavioral observations on each individual as they explored their home. We spent eight weeks monitoring where they chose to spend their time and how their behavior varied based on a number of different factors, including noise levels and if guests were present in a new way the habitat provides. A 70-foot long canopy walkway extends through the trees of the space, allowing visitors to have a red panda’s-eye view.

 

Through these observations, we learned exactly what we hoped for – the red pandas demonstrated diverse “activity budgets”, which means they engaged in different behaviors throughout the day. We were really pleased to see that Ash and Ravi explored and scent-marked their space, both signs that it is stimulating for them. Ta-shi spent a bit more time inactive than the others, which is not surprising given that she is older.

The red pandas made use of most of their space, but did have some preferences, including spending time high up in the trees. This is a natural tendency for the species, and we were glad to see them use the elevated features. Having visitors present on the bridge did not seem to change their preferred resting locations, although Ash occasionally stayed inside the holding building when the habitat first opened. In order to allow the red pandas to acclimate to their new surroundings, we provided them with the choice to go inside their respective buildings. Enabling animals to choose where to spend their time is an important factor in ensuring positive welfare. This ability to retreat was also helpful when noise levels rose, primarily due to the construction happening at the Devereaux Tiger Forest close by. We were thrilled to see that Ash, Ravi and Ta-shi found their home to be a great place to live, letting us know that all of the planning that went into this habitat expansion was successful.

 

Our next post-occupancy evaluation will focus on the Devereaux Tiger Forest. The tiger forest will significantly increase the amount of space for tigers. Naturalistic features, including caves, trees, elevated areas, a waterfall and pool, have been incorporated in order to promote species-appropriate behaviors. We look forward to assessing how the new habitat impacts the well-being of the tigers when the habitat opens this summer.

This year’s Sunset at the Zoo celebrates the Asian Forest, which includes both the tigers’ and red pandas’ new digs. On the evening of Friday, June 7, guests will have the opportunity to explore the Holtzman Wildlife Foundation Red Panda Forest and take a sneak peek at the new Devereaux Tiger Forest. Just as the red panda habitat includes an exciting new experience for guests with the canopy walkway, the tiger habitat has a thrilling element of its own. In addition to expansive acrylic viewing windows, an SUV will be positioned half in the habitat and half out, allowing visitors to sit in the driver’s seat – and a tiger might just lounge on the hood.

Proceeds for Sunset at the Zoo benefit the Detroit Zoological Society’s mission of Celebrating and Saving Wildlife.

– 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.

Animal Welfare: How do You Know if They’re ‘Happy’?

Think about the term, “animal welfare”, and what it means to you. When you encounter an animal – in any setting, be it a zoo, a friend’s house or even your own living room – are there certain cues that help you decide if you feel the animal is having a good or a bad time – or experiencing positive or negative welfare? It may be the animal’s appearance, behaviors, what the space looks like where they live, or perhaps it’s based on your knowledge about that species.

In some cases, it’s relatively easy to determine that an animal is in a poor welfare state. If they’re living in dirty and cramped conditions, don’t have access to social partners – or perhaps too many – or if they have obvious signs of injuries or illness without any indication they’re under veterinary care, it’s likely the animal is not experiencing good welfare. But when you look at other, less obvious factors, such as if the animal is quietly resting in a spacious habitat, or if the animal is moving back and forth in one area of their space, the answers are less clear.

The concept of animal welfare refers to an animal’s physical, mental and emotional states over a period of time. It is based on the individual’s experience, which can be different from one species to another, and from one animal to another. It is not about what is provided to an animal, such as food and water – this doesn’t automatically ensure good welfare. Although having access to these resources is critical to creating conditions that may lead to good welfare, it is actually how the animal perceives those conditions that determines their welfare. We can’t simply measure welfare in terms of square footage, gallons of water or the nutritional content of food items. We must use indicators from the animals themselves, such as behavior, physical condition and even emotional responses.

These indicators represent the three different concepts of welfare. The first has to do with an animal’s ability to engage in natural behaviors, or live in a way it has evolved to. The second involves biological functioning and prioritizes an animal’s physical health. The last focuses on the animal’s feelings and emotional states, with an emphasis on minimizing negative emotions and promoting positive ones. Should we favor one concept over another, it is possible we would miss something important to an individual animal.

If two people were to assess an animal using two different concepts, they could come to conflicting conclusions about that animal’s welfare state. This is why we incorporate aspects of all three of these concepts when evaluating animal welfare. This allows us to gain a much more holistic picture of the animal’s experience and to consider all of the factors that impact their well-being.

– 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.