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.
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.
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.
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.
– 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.
Stephanie Allard, Ph.D., is the Director of Animal Welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.
She was standing still, in front of an expansive vista full of greenery. Her eyes bounced from place to place, noting the tiered stream and pools, the variety in shrubbery and trees, and the rocky outcroppings. Sensing movement to her left, she turned to get a better look, and, through the trees she spotted Kaska, a male gray wolf with a coat of dark, smoky fur, exiting the den.
Wazi, a 7-year-old female gray wolf, is often seen exploring the terrain of her new home in the 2-acre Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness. Since it’s opening in early June, staff from the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare have been observing what the two wolves are doing and where they are spending their time as they acclimate to their new habitat at the Detroit Zoo. As the wolves interact with each other and explore their surroundings, we learn what matters to them.
The process by which zoo habitats are designed is lengthy and meticulous. When architects design a home or an office building, they can talk to their clients to make sure that the design encompasses all of their wishes and meets all of their needs. When we are designing spaces for animals, we do not have the luxury of asking them questions directly. We have to rely on our understanding of the ecology and behavior of the species in question. We engage experts and ultimately construct habitats that we believe will not only meet, but exceed the needs of the animals that will inhabit them. We include opportunities for each animal to engage in species-typical behaviors, to seek shelter and privacy when desired, and to exert some measure of choice and control over their daily lives.
When all is said and done, we must rely on what the animals “tell” us about their environment and make any adjustments accordingly. As we do with all the animals, we will continue to find ways to learn what Wazi and Kaska think about their home and their lives.
– Dr. Stephanie Allard
Beth Wallace is the Manager of Sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.
Have you ever wondered what happens with all of the poo at the Detroit Zoo? With more than 2,600 animals in residence, you can probably imagine that a staggering amount of manure is generated – nearly 500 tons each year, in fact.
As part of its Greenprint initiative, the Detroit Zoological Society has plans to build a biodigester that will convert all of our animal manure – and other organic waste – into soil, biogas and organic liquid fertilizer. This will be the first anaerobic digester at any zoo in the U.S. and we need your support to make this project a dung deal.
How the system works:
- Every week we will collect manure from each of our animal habitats.
- The manure will then be placed in one of the four biodigester holding chambers. All four chambers will be sealed shut when product is not being moved.
- Once a chamber is completely full, we will spray it with microorganisms, air-tight seal the chamber and essentially bake the material for 30-60 days.
- While the product breaks down, methane is released and captured in a biogas bag above. The Zoo will then run that biogas to a generator at the nearby animal hospital, which will be used as a renewable energy source.
- Once the material has completed its cycle, our landscaping team will then utilize the remaining soil and organic fertilizer throughout our 125 gardens.
The biodigester will not only provide the Zoo with a full-circle approach to waste management, but it will also demonstrate to our region a practical, waste-to-energy system that could be replicated by many businesses in the area, including microbrews, farmers markets and even schools.
While we are well on our way to meeting our funding goals, we still need a little help to make this project a reality. To show your support, please visit our crowdfunding site, at Patronicity.com/DetroitZoo.
– Beth Wallace