Animal Welfare: Engaging Animals with Smashing Pumpkins

Pumpkins are everywhere this time of year, from front porches to spiced lattes. At the Detroit Zoo, you may notice pumpkins and gourds decorating the grounds, immersing visitors in the feeling of fall and generating excitement for Zoo Boo.

You may also see them in animal habitats, where they serve a different purpose. The Detroit Zoological Society is committed to ensuring that each animal experiences great welfare, and this involves providing animals with engaging and stimulating opportunities. We work hard to create habitats that enable animals to display species-typical behaviors such as foraging for their food. Providing additional opportunities to interact with the environment, referred to as environmental enrichment, is one important part of that work to increase complexity and novelty.

Each animal can choose whether to interact with these features – the ability to make choices is a critical factor in positive welfare. Furthermore, this can result in a greater diversity of behaviors, another indicator of positive welfare. Pumpkins are given out whole or are carved to hide other edible items, and placed in different locations for various species, all depending on the behaviors we are trying to encourage. While pumpkins and other seasonal items are a fun way to accomplish this during the Halloween season, the animals residing at the Detroit Zoo are provided with enriching activities daily by their dedicated zookeepers.

The public is invited to share in this experience and observe the animals eating, playing with, tearing apart and smashing their seasonal goodies during Smashing Pumpkins on Wednesday, October 12 and Saturday, October 22.

 

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

Animal Welfare: Workshop Draws Zoo Staff from Around the Globe

In many parts of the world, October means the start of cooler weather and fall celebrations. For the staff of the Detroit Zoo’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare, it also means the arrival of participants in our annual workshop, “From Good Care to Great Welfare”. This year marks the fifth time we have held the workshop and this time around, we are joined by animal care professionals from the U.S., Montreal, Guatemala and Singapore.

We are spending five days discussing what animal welfare is, and how to assess and improve it in zoos.  The central theme of better understanding how animals in zoos and aquariums experience the world is woven through the lectures, activities and projects.

This message is key, as providing animals with what they need to thrive is dependent on each individual’s perception of their environment, both social and physical. We must create an awareness of the sensory abilities of other species, how environmental factors impact them, and the responsibility we all have to ensuring positive animal welfare.

The workshop is an exciting time for all of us, as we get to know people from around the globe committed to advancing animal welfare and as a result, enhance our own ability to impact the wellbeing of animals living in zoos and aquariums.

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

Animal Welfare: Positive Interactions Between Humans and Animals

Humans and animals interact in different ways, and in a zoo setting, these kinds of interactions take many forms. The animals interact with the zookeepers who care for them, the animal welfare researchers who monitor them, the zoo staff who work around them, and the visitors who come to see them.

Depending on the situation, interactions with humans can be viewed by the animals as negative, neutral or positive and over time, if a certain type is most prevalent, can result in a corresponding relationship between animals and humans.

One important factor that influences the type of relationship that develops is how animals perceive humans, which is influenced by what species they are, their individual temperaments and past experiences. Some species, and some individuals, are more fearful of humans and will avoid them as much as possible. Others may see humans as something of interest. However, our behavior when we are around them can still influence how they are feeling, and if our actions are perceived as a threat or something that creates stress, the animal’s experience becomes negative.

The work zookeepers do is so critical to ensuring animals living in zoos experience good welfare. They create positive interactions through actions like feeding and positive reinforcement training, and this helps to establish positive relationships. Having these positive relationships with the humans with whom they interact the most can help the animals to be more comfortable in situations that could be stressful.

Understanding how we impact animals through our actions is incredibly important. We are ultimately responsible for ensuring each individual animal at the zoo has great welfare and we can take steps to do just that. Each one of us can treat every animal we encounter, whether it be at the zoo, in our neighborhoods and in our homes with respect, appreciating that they have needs and that our behavior can affect them.

When you visit the zoo, enjoy watching the animals living their lives, know that they are sensitive to what is happening around them, and share the same sense of awe and privilege I feel knowing that my actions can help them feel comfortable and safe.

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

Animal Welfare: What, How and Why

I have written a number of blog entries on the animal welfare research projects we are conducting through the Detroit Zoological Society’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare, and how collaborations enable us to move forward with many of the initiatives we undertake. Let’s now go back to the basics and explore what animal welfare is, how we go about evaluating the welfare of individual animals, and why this is fundamentally important.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Animal Welfare Committee defines animal welfare as an animal’s collective physical, mental and emotional states over a period of time, and is measurable on a continuum from good to poor. Although there are a number of other definitions available, the main factors remain consistent: Welfare is measured at the level of the individual animal, it encompasses all aspects of an animal’s life, and it can change over the course of time. The goal for anyone working with and around animals is to ensure that they each experience good welfare.

Going back many decades, people have long been concerned with the welfare of animals. In the 1960s, the Five Freedoms model was developed, originally as a means to assess the welfare of farm animals. This model states that animals should experience freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom from fear and distress, and freedom to express normal behavior. Since its initial development, this model has been applied in a variety of settings, including in zoos. However, the Five Freedoms model can be improved upon, as it is focused on minimizing negative states rather than also promoting positive welfare. Additionally, some of what is stated can be counter-productive to an animal’s survival. For example, if an animal never experiences thirst, then it may never drink, and this would not be a good thing. Therefore, the absolute freedom from some of the experiences is not even feasible. Rather, the important factor is ensuring that the resources necessary to perform the associated behaviors are available.

More recently, the Five Domains model was created, which delineates how nutrition, physical health, behavior and the environment (both physical and social) feed into an animal’s emotional state. The outcome is the individual’s welfare status. For example, if an animal is hungry but does not have access to food, this will result in a feeling of hunger, which will be a negative factor in the overall welfare status of that animal. If an animal is able to express natural behaviors, he or she will experience satisfaction, which is a positive emotion and contributes to positive welfare. All physical influences are taken into consideration as well as how they impact the internal, emotional state of the animal, in order to assess overall well-being.

Assessing welfare is a complex process that requires an understanding of the needs of a species and an individual as well as experience with scientific methods. It also typically includes multiple types of measures such as behavioral and physiological indicators. One can begin by evaluating what is made available to an animal, such as the physical space, the type of food presented and the social opportunities provided. This kind of assessment is known as a resource-based assessment, as it focuses on what we provide to the animals. To truly understand how an animal is faring, however, we also need to understand how they respond to their environment, and as such, conduct animal-based assessments. In our case, we usually observe how animals are interacting with their physical environment, with one another if they are a social species, and we utilize various physiological measures such as body condition, overall health and even hormone levels.

In order to ensure animals living in zoos are thriving, we need to understand what matters to them and that requires us to figure out how to “ask” them. Using existing methods and developing new ones to assess welfare is critical if we are to make evidence-based decisions for caring for animals. By letting animals tell us what is working and what needs to be improved, we are making their welfare a priority, and this is the ultimate responsibility we have to each and every animal living in the care of humans.

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

Animal Welfare: Educational Partnerships that Improve Animal Well-Being

In a number of instances, the work we do to enhance the welfare of the animals at the Detroit Zoo is a result of collaboration and partnerships. One such partnership is with Madonna University. Students enrolled in a class that is part of the humane education curriculum join us each semester to undertake projects that will benefit the animals.

We work with animal care staff to select projects suited to each species and the students are responsible for learning about that species to better understand the impact that their project will have on the animals’ welfare. The students are divided into three groups and each group is assigned a particular project. The groups work with mentors from the Life Sciences division and over the course of several weeks, complete their project. On the last day, all of the students get the chance to see the results of all of the projects in order to gain more appreciation of the various ways in which we can positively impact animals living in the care of humans.

Over the course of the last few years, the Madonna University students have participated in projects benefiting warthogs, amphibians, giraffes, gorillas, reptiles, rhinos and birds living in the Free-Flight Aviary, to name a few. This year, the students will help us to modify habitats for giant anteaters, flamingos and kangaroos and wallabies in the Australian Outback Adventure. This will involve the creation of nesting areas for the flamingos, as well as planting shrubs for the anteaters and kangaroos in order to add more complexity to their environments and create additional areas of shade. These types of modifications are important to ensure that animals encounter novelty and have more opportunities to display species-typical behaviors.

This wonderful partnership is an example of how the Detroit Zoo provides educational and inspirational opportunities for students and is always finding ways to design engaging habitats for the animals.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the Director of Animal Welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.

Veterinary Care: New Penguin Facility is a Veterinarian’s Dream Come True

Anyone who has visited the Detroit Zoo’s Penguinarium probably knows that it is impossible to escape the charm of the penguin. I have been caring for penguins at the Detroit Zoo for more than 20 years, and can attest to this firsthand. I find them to be exceptionally interesting and charismatic animals, and even after all these years, I enjoy every visit to the Penguinarium immensely. More than a few penguins have stolen my heart over the years.

Generally speaking, penguins are strong, feisty birds that rarely develop health problems. In recent years, the penguin flock at the Detroit Zoo has become older, and we have treated penguins for a variety of age-related medical problems. In the course of this work, we realized that there were gaps in the scientific literature concerning penguin health. As a result, we focused our efforts on gaining a better understanding of some of the most important conditions, including cataracts, melanoma and bumblefoot. Our animal health and life sciences departments and the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare all share the same long-term goal of better understanding how we can provide an environment that allows penguins to thrive and maintain the best possible health and welfare.

The new Polk Penguin Conservation Center is a penguin veterinarian’s dream come true. We feel so fortunate to have been able to use our expanded knowledge of penguin health to inform the design of their new home. Every aspect of the habitat is designed to meet their unique needs:

  • The lighting in the new habitat provides a much wider spectrum of wavelengths, with more ultraviolet light and improved nighttime lighting in the red wavelength ranges. The lighting intensity capacity is greatly increased, and can be adjusted to mimic seasonal variation.
  • The flooring has been designed to enhance foot health and prevent development of bumblefoot lesions. In some places, the floor is coated with a resinous material to provide cushioning, and in other areas the flooring has variable rocky textures, mimicking conditions seen in Antarctica.
  • The penguins will have an enormous pool for swimming, and a swim channel that will allow them to circumnavigate the entire habitat. This will result in increased activity levels and opportunities for natural porpoising and diving behaviors and will help them avoid weight gain.
  • The water filtration system is state-of-art, and will include an ozonation capacity and improved water filtration.
  • The air quality will be significantly improved, providing 100% air exchange and improved air filtering.
  • The nesting areas are designed to be easy to clean and allow better chick-rearing success.
  • We will also have more places to temporarily hold animals needing special attention during illness or quarantine, and fold-down stainless steel exam tables for veterinary exams and procedures.

 

 

 

 

Over the years, we have been able to provide treatment and loving care to a number of very special penguin patients and have had a lot of success: We’ve helped chicks who have gotten off to a rough start, restored vision to a number of geriatric penguins with cataracts and significantly reduced the incidence of bumblefoot. Despite these successes, our greatest measure of achievement is in the medical problem that is avoided altogether. We constantly strive to prevent issues from developing, through carefully designed diets, vaccination and parasite prophylaxis, disease surveillance and excellent care. The Polk Penguin Conservation Center is a big stride forward toward this goal, and we thank the community for their support of this exciting project. Thank you for helping us provide the best possible care to our penguin family.

– Dr. Ann Duncan is the Director of Animal Health for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

Animal Welfare: Residency Program Advances Mission

The Detroit Zoological Society’s Center for Zoo Animal Welfare acts as a resource for knowledge about animal welfare, and in many cases, this includes providing training to others in various ways.

One such way is through our residency program. Residencies offer individuals the opportunity to better understand animal welfare and how to apply scientific principles in order to assess it. Residents are recent college graduates who join our team for a period of six months, during which they assist with data collection on various welfare-related research initiatives and conduct their own independent project designed to provide us with more information about how animals are doing. Past residents have examined such concepts as the impact of underwater complexity on North American river otters, how temperature and social relationships affect how Japanese macaques use their habitat, and the effect of varying how food is presented on the behavior of the king brown snake.

We currently have two brand-new residents working with us, and we are so excited to have them join the team. They will be helping to collect data on the penguin welfare project we are currently working on as we prepare for the opening of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center; using video recordings of what the aardvarks are doing at night so we can have a better idea of how they spend their time and what environmental features they might prefer, and focusing on assessing the welfare of one of the species at the Zoo as part of an independent project. The information they gather will help us to figure out if the animals are thriving, and if any changes could result in even better welfare.

We are glad to be able to provide these kinds of educational opportunities to aspiring animal welfare professionals. Not only does this enable us to undertake even more welfare-related projects here at the Detroit Zoo, which helps to expand the existing body of knowledge about animal welfare, but it also promotes the advancement of animal welfare as these residents go on to the next part of their career.

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

Animal Welfare: Penguin Research Continues as Opening of New Facility Nears

Our ongoing research project on penguin welfare continues as we get closer to the opening of the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, and we are learning a lot! For the past nine months, we have been keeping track of what the penguins are doing in the Penguinarium; where they spend their time, and with whom they are spending time. In addition, the data loggers that some of the birds have worn to track their swimming behavior have really highlighted how different each individual penguin is when it comes to spending time in the water. Some like to get their swimming done early in the morning, and some like to dip in and out throughout the day. Studying the welfare of animals is focused on each individual animal, and this is a perfect example of why this is important. By understanding how individuals differ, we can best meet the needs of each one.

We began this project to understand how the new Polk Penguin Conservation Center, opening in Spring 2016, would impact the penguins living at the Detroit Zoo. This not only helps us to ensure that the penguins here are thriving, but also to gain information that can be shared with others to benefit penguins living in other zoos and aquariums. An important part of the research is collecting what is referred to as baseline data, which is then used to compare with data collected in the new habitat so changes in the penguins’ behavior or activity patterns can be identified and so we can understand how they are experiencing the new habitat.

Some of the techniques we are using here may also help penguins in the wild. Field researchers can’t always study animals as closely as we can, so we may be able to provide valuable information to them, such as how we are using data loggers. We are also working on measuring hormones in penguin feathers that can provide more evidence on how penguins respond to changes in their environment. This is useful for penguins both in captive settings and in the wild.

We will continue to provide updates on this project, so be sure to check back to see our progress!

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

Notes from the Field: Arriving in Antarctica

Reporting back from blue water. We experienced some rain, but only light winds as we sailed through the infamous Drake Passage, offering us the “Drake lake” not the “Drake shake”! Throughout the Passage, many more feathered companions greeted us including Wilson’s storm petrels, slender-billed prions, light-mantled albatross and more. The light-mantled albatross is a majestic flyer that glided around our boat effortlessly.

antarctica 1

During our fourth evening on the boat, icebergs and pieces of ice started to consistently drift by while the rain changed to snow. We were getting close! By early afternoon on day five, the boat entered the 16-mile-long Neumayer Channel, which is a breathtakingly gorgeous passage. We cruised through incredible snow-covered cliffs, while icebergs of varying beautiful hues of blue floated past us. A couple ghost-like snow petrels made an appearance. Snow petrels are a pure white bird with black eyes and a black beak and are found in southern Georgia and Antarctica. We eventually passed Port Lockroy, which has a British research base and the nearest post office. Then, in the clearing as the clouds parted slightly, we could see a small collection of buildings: the U. S. Palmer Station and my home for the next couple of months.

Antarctica 2

A handful of gentoo penguins came to the edge of the ice to greet us while we were landing the boat. It was nice to feel the hard ground under our feet after the wonderful five-day voyage. Since we landed in the evening, we hung out for a while at the station, meeting the very friendly current residents and then headed back to the boat for the night. The following morning, we got right to work unloading our gear, followed by a half-day of orientation. After orientation, I found my way down to a small hut, which is known as the “birders” office. The “birders” is a station nickname for our group that does bird research. I am joining three fantastic, expert field biologists to do field work/research on gentoo, adelie, and chinstrap penguins, southern giant-petrels, brown skuas and more. Much of the work involves long-term ecological studies and is associated with figuring out the bird’s relationship to and impact from climate change. This work is overseen and guided by the principal investigator, the world-renowned polar ecologist Dr. Bill Fraser, who also consulted with the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) on the design of the new Polk Penguin Conservation Center, a spectacular facility under construction at the Detroit Zoo.

antarctica 3.jpg

Also while I’m down here, I will be able to absorb knowledge that can be brought back to the Detroit Zoo’s already expert penguin staff. Conservation and animal welfare are priorities of the DZS and this incredible opportunity will allow us to continue to improve the already excellent welfare we ensure for animals. The Detroit Zoo, home to the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare, is known internationally for our animal welfare program, and we are always challenging ourselves and our industry to continue improving. Starting tomorrow, I will jump into the field and will report back soon. Thank you for reading!

– Matthew Porter is a bird department zookeeper for the Detroit Zoological Society and is spending the next few months at the U.S. Palmer Station in Antarctica for a rare and extraordinary scientific opportunity to assist a field team with penguin research.

Animal Welfare: Using Infrared Thermography to Assess Well-Being

It is hard enough for us, as humans, to understand how others are feeling. But imagine how difficult it is for us to know how animals are experiencing the world around them from an emotional standpoint. Other species perceive the world very differently than we do and cannot communicate with us using words.

Finding new ways to assess the emotional lives of animals is critical to advancing our understanding of animal welfare. It is also incredibly important to develop methods that are non-invasive, thereby not affecting the animals during the process. Infrared thermography is a potential way for us to do this.

Infrared thermography (IRT) is technology that uses a camera to remotely measure the temperature of an object. The images, called thermograms, show different colors to represent various temperatures, and this allows measurement to be taken without having to touch the object. It has been used in a variety of ways including in buildings and in diagnostic medicine in both humans and animals. Some scientists have also been using it to help assess aspects of animal welfare.

Animal welfare encompasses the physical, psychological and emotional experience of an animal. It is important to use measures that look at all of those components to understand how an individual animal is faring. The body’s response to certain things, such as stress and positive experiences, can have an impact on temperature. This means that in some cases, changes in the temperature of body parts, such as the eyes, can tell us how an animal is responding to an event.

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