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Time to stop assuming all enrichment is good for welfare

Dr Jake Veasey

Aug 7, 2023

Who's enriching who?

Its great to have seen animal welfare blossom as a priority amongst zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks, as well as zoo designers, and a plethora of other stakeholders including the public, but it worries me when I see welfare buzzwords like choice, complexity and enrichment applied so liberally with very little thought as to whether they are truly beneficial or appropriate. Yes, in theory choices and complexity can an be good for zoo animals, but how meaningful and relevant are those choices or that complexity? Personally, the unlimited choice of shows to stream is a choice I could do without that so far, none of the major provider algorithms has yet to crack for me personally, so, do better than the algorithms, pick wisely and thoughtfully for your animals! And the same is true of enrichment. Lets not kid ourselves that any choice, any form of complexity, or any enrichment is good for welfare. Consider the possibility that the fact that the majority of zoo enrichment studies show a positive welfare impact could be because A) we are great at enrichment B) there is a publication bias towards studies demonstrating positive effects, or C) baseline welfare is so low that any form of intervention regardless of its biological appropriateness will have a beneficial impact. Unfortunately, I suspect options B and C might be the most influential factors. So, when designing habitats and management systems, make sure "enrichment" is simply part of husbandry, it should never be an add-on, so stop thinking of it as one! Secondly, ensure its truly species-specific; scatter feeding works well for some species but our analysis shows it can be positively detrimental to even close relatives. Finally, ensure your habitat design integrates a proper understanding of the species' needs, which is hard-wired into the DNA of that habitat rather than something keepers spend generations trying to back-fill with add-ons. And to be clear, we need to start from first principles, simply looking at other zoo or sanctuary habitats as a reference point will not move the needle. The AWPIS assessment model was devised to break this cycle and is a powerful tool in determining what really matters to animals to guide both day-to-day care and facility design, so if you really want to know what matters to your animals, join the growing list of zoos, sanctuaries and NGO's in reaching out and finding out more!

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