Late last year I published a paper entitled "In pursuit of peak animal welfare; the need to prioritize the meaningful over the measurable", in it I argued that too frequently, animal management places too much emphasis on aspects of care reflected in welfare assessment metrics, and not enough on the actual feelings and experiences of animals, which remain stubbornly closed to us. The outcome of this quantification bias can be systematic sub-optimal animal welfare management. In other words, animal management all too frequently focuses on the measurable rather than the meaningful to the detriment of animal welfare.
In closing this paper, I advocated the use of alternative methodologies to determine welfare priorities; an area I have been working on for over two years with the collaboration of a number of international animal welfare charities, zoo associations and academic institutions. Following recent successful presentations to the Dutch Zoo Federation's accreditation committee, the EAZA community at their annual conference, the 4th Global Animal Welfare Congress, the International Zoo Design Conference, the Vietnamese Elephant Management Workshop and the 4th International Conference on Animal Computer Interaction, the EAZA Academy have started including this methodology in their Advanced Animal Welfare Workshops, first in Kolmarden, Sweden in late 2017 and this week in Rome. Here we introduced the methodology to a group of thirty zoo professionals from Italy and across Europe, and carried out an illustrative 'quick-assessment' for captive tigers to introduce the theory behind the process to them; using post-it notes for maximum visual effect and group interaction rather than the more sophisticated online assessment tool used for more in depth assessments.
Delegates were impressed with the facilitated process and appreciated the new insights they had gained into assessing species specific welfare priorities as well as the needs of tigers. Perhaps the most interesting revelation for the group was the importance of considering cognitive processes in habitat design and management in addition to behavioural considerations.
Originally developed as a tool to identify welfare priorities to inform habitat design and animal management strategies, its utility in animal welfare assessment soon became clear; already, the Dutch Zoo Federation is exploring how the system might be used to assess welfare as part of its accreditation process and other agencies are also discussing its use in this role. Watch this space for future publications on this innovative methodology, in the meantime click the link below and have a look at the paper that lays the foundation for this process and makes the case for an alternative approach to welfare prioritisation, assessment and policy.
Link to In Pursuit of Peak Welfare