• Penguins
  • Chimpanzee
  • Tortoise


A Human Model

Human medicine offers a compelling model for considering the unintended effects that zoos may have on the animals in their care. Some hospitals have challenged widely held presumptions that they only help patients and have found, despite good intentions, their efforts can actually result in unintended harm to patients. Internal focus on the issue led to assessment of unintended consequences in patient care and changes in how some hospitals operate. The Center for Zoo Animal Welfare parallels this work for captive exotic animals.

Ensuring captive animal welfare

Ensuring the well-being of captive exotic animals requires acknowledgement of fundamental issues:

  • An individual’s overall mental, physical and emotional state (referred to as welfare or well-being) is determined solely by that individual
  • Captive exotic animals must be able to exercise relevant and meaningful control and choice in their lives.
  • Good care is not the same as good welfare.
  • Constant, rigorous evaluation of captive environments and practices is essential.
  • Sharing of information and open dialogue is essential.


Ensuring the well-being of individuals (animal welfare) sometimes conflicts with ensuring the well-being of species (conservation). Animals that are old, non-breeding or otherwise not considered valuable are often viewed as competitors for the resources in zoos. We can and should balance the needs of both individuals and populations by developing programs that ensure the well-being of both.

Advisory Committee

Ron Kagan, Executive Director/CEO, Detroit Zoological Society

Kevin Bell, CEO and President, Lincoln Park Zoo

Cynthia Bennett, Ph.D., Associate Editor, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science

Sarah Bexell, Ph.D., Director of Conservation Education, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding; Humane Education & Anti-Cruelty Programs Manager, Institute for Human-Animal Connection; Adjunct, University of Denver

William Conway, M.D., Executive Vice President, Henry Ford Health System

Craig Dinsmore, President/CEO, Utah’s Hogle Zoo

David Fraser, Ph.D., Professor of Animal Welfare, University of British Columbia

Debborah Luke, Ph.D., Vice President for Conservation, Association of Zoos & Aquariums

Georgia Mason, Ph.D., Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare, University of Guelph

David Mellor, Ph.D., Director, Animal Welfare Science & Bioethics Centre; Professor, Massey University

Joel Parrott, DVM, Executive Director, Oakland Zoo

John Racanelli, Chief Executive Officer, National Aquarium

Andrew Rowan, Ph.D., President/CEO, Humane Society International

Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., President of the Board, Animals & Society Institute

Ed Stewart, President/Co-Founder, Performing Animal Welfare Society

Janice Swanson, Ph.D., Director of Animal Welfare, Michigan State University