Differing animal welfare conceptions and what they mean for the future of zoos and aquariums, insights from an animal welfare audit

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Jake S Veasey
Zoo Biology

Animal welfare is a growing public concern that has the potential to undermine the social license of zoos and aquariums. The lack of consensus on how animal welfare is defined across such a diverse sector combined with and a widespread belief that commercial priorities such as entertaining visitors conflicts with animal welfare, hinders efforts to effectively address this fundamental issue for the sector. Data derived from an audit of habitats across a major North American wildlife attraction revealed that holistic animal welfare assessments undertaken by animal carers embracing three principal constructs of animal welfare, correlated strongly with visitor perceptions of animal happiness. Visitor assessments of animal happiness also correlated with animal carer assessments of social, behavioural and locomotor opportunities and inversely with the prevalence of stereotypic behaviours, supporting the proposition that folk conceptions of animal welfare are more accurate than may have previously been considered to be the case. However, the holistic animal welfare assessment inversely correlated with assessments of a habitat’s capacity to safeguard welfare as determined by the facility’s veterinary staff, supporting the proposition that tensions exist between physical and psychological components of captive animal welfare provisioning. This further underlines the importance of clarity on how animal welfare is conceived when developing institutional animal welfare strategies. Finally, the data also showed that both holistic animal welfare assessments and visitor perceptions of animal happiness strongly correlated with the level of enjoyment experienced by visitors, challenging the belief that animal welfare competes with the commercial priorities of zoos and aquariums. The audit supports the case that maintaining high animal welfare is a commercial imperative as well as a moral obligation for zoos and aquariums and underlines the necessity to utilize conceptions of animal welfare that acknowledge the centrality of the affective states of animals in maintaining those standards.


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