Zoos and animal rights : the ethics of keeping animals

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Excerpt Zoos and philosophy probably seem the oddest combination, but this book is an attempt to examine some of the ethical issues raised by the never-ending debate over zoos. Meaney Greenwood Press, Read preview Overview. Franklin Columbia University Press, The Hastings Center Report, Vol. Vietzke, Holly Coyne, Michael L. Albany Law Review, Vol. These days, through the numerous social media avenues, a more savvy and intellectually demanding public is challenging the necessity of keeping animals in this way.

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But the contradiction remains: there is public uproar when abuse or cruelty is highlighted in a zoo, yet millions continue to visit them - million a year to WAZA World Association of Zoos and Aquariums zoos alone - to be entertained. The issue is not black or white, it's not even 50 shades of gray, it's a flamboyant multi-colored array of differing and passionate opinions.


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Zoos carry out conservation, they rescue animals, they educate people and delight millions of visitors a year. But a large number of zoos mainly those not part of an accredited zoo body, of which there are potentially thousands are also responsible for cruelty, limited or no conservation and educational conduct and unethical actions.

Is keeping of animals in captivity the ultimate oxymoron animal welfare? Can a more compassionate zoo mitigate these concerns while continuing to reach their commercial and conservation targets? An impressive figure, although as with all statistics, one needs to probe a little deeper to determine its true value.

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Often the case is that the actual number of threatened species saved from extinction by zoos remains low and critically endangered species are left off the list, so does it matter that zoos are spending millions? Although zoos carry out in-situ conservation work on threatened species, the focus can sometimes be skewed towards mammals, particularly the charismatic primates and carnivores, while less attractive animal groups are underrepresented n.

Zoos can and do host successful programs for the lesser known species, but the media are less interested and consequently these successes aren't always championed. Historically conservation of a species has by and large taken priority ahead of the welfare of an individual animal or the ethical management of a captive population, but this demonstrates a naive and flawed approach for the majority of species.

With an emerging movement in compassionate conservation , the two disciplines can work more coherently together, complimenting both the zoos conservation efforts without becoming detrimental to individual animals. It will take compromise and a change of attitude within the zoo community, but ultimately this compassionate approach will galvanize greater support from the wider public, the zoos' target audience, while continuing with the great conservation work they actually do.

An argument used by many to justify keeping animals in zoos, is that we need to ensure we are inspiring the next generation to save our wildlife. But there is limited evidence that education is a successful output from zoos. This is offset by a recent report "A Global Evaluation of Biodiversity Literacy in Zoo and Aquarium Visitors" published in-house by WAZA, which claims that the study proved zoos and aquariums did teach us about biodiversity.

However the increase in positive understanding was only five percent in a sample population of 6, More importantly, the real question is whether that understanding translates into tangible action that contributes to the care and conservation of species. Measuring the learning value of zoos is incredibly hard.

The continued planned development of the AWAG into a simple app based system would make it much easier for the care staff to enter a welfare score directly. The AWAG offers an evidence-based tool for continual welfare assessment, but it should be constantly adapted to include measures of good welfare, using technology where appropriate. This technology could therefore also be used to monitor positive facial expressions, once these have been determined, as an assessment of positive affective states [ 40 ].

Other technologies, such as auditory monitoring devices, closed circuit television CCTV recording and remote or invasive devices to measure heart rate, temperature and heart rate variability could also be used to detect both positive and negative states, and may soon be commercially available to zoo communities.

Immune markers and monitoring the sleep patterns of animals could also provide information on the affective state [ 13 , 40 ]. While not practical in the zoo animal setting, research-based imaging techniques such as electroencephalography and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, which have been used to investigate positive affective state and pleasure-centre responses in humans, could also be used in animals [ 13 ], but not if the effect of the monitoring decreases their welfare.

The majority of published studies on zoo animal welfare have focused on mammalian species [ 17 , ]; however, it is necessary to perform evidence-based assessments of zoo welfare across taxonomic groups to inform the management strategy.


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The challenge is to validate the measures of positive affect in zoo species, confounded further by the challenges of small sample sizes and challenging working environments for the collection of robust, repeatable experimental data [ ]. Due to the paucity of wild data, it can be difficult, or even misleading, to use this to assess the welfare of zoo animals. The AWAG is a highly adaptable tool which aims to assess each animal, as an individual, over the course of its life.

Building the themes of positive affective state measurement into this welfare assessment ensures we are able to identify more than just compromised welfare, and thus improve our provision of conditions for positive welfare and life experience in zoo animals. Attending to the welfare needs of animals is not a passive process; it requires a continuous planning, implementation, assessment, and revision cycle. The assessment of welfare facilitates not only the retrospective illustration of quality of life and the impact of enrichment, husbandry and procedures, but also helps enable the projection of future harms to the animal related to anticipated change, or lack of change.

However the assessment of welfare alone is not sufficient and does nothing for the animal whose perception of its own welfare is not affected by the reason it is maintained whether it is for exhibition or breeding use, for example [ ]. The outcome of monitoring and assessment must be action to improve welfare and the welfare assessment is simply the tool to demonstrate the action is effective. The continuing development of IT systems of activity monitoring which automatically link to animal unit databases will provide data in the future that can be used to quantify welfare and can be reviewed and reassessed at regular time points.

Zoos have competing priorities: to entertain; to engage and inspire the public to love the natural world and support conservation; to ensure revenue is created to pay for running costs, reinvestment and conservation project support; and to provide the animals in their care with a life worth living and ideally a good life [ ]. Public perception of what contributes to good welfare in zoos is often conflicting and comes from the anthropocentric assessment of perceived welfare and enclosure aesthetics [ ]. Conceptualization, S. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.

Journal List Animals Basel v. Animals Basel. Published online Jul 4. Justice 2. Find articles by Sarah Wolfensohn. Find articles by Justine Shotton.

Preamble to the Code of Professional Ethics

Find articles by Hannah Bowley. Find articles by Sarah Thompson. William S. Find articles by William S. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Received May 18; Accepted Jul 2. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract Simple Summary Maintaining a high standard of animal welfare is essential in zoos, and methods of animal welfare assessment should aim to evaluate positive as well as negative states.

Keywords: zoo animals, welfare, quality of life, lifetime experience, animal welfare assessment grid. Introduction Ensuring a high standard of zoo animal welfare is important for both ethical and legislative reasons [ 1 ]. Behavioural Assessments Behavioural measurements are critical in assessing the welfare of zoo animals. Current Frameworks for Welfare Assessment in Zoos Several examples of frameworks for zoo animal welfare assessment have recently been published in peer reviewed journals. Conclusions The majority of published studies on zoo animal welfare have focused on mammalian species [ 17 , ]; however, it is necessary to perform evidence-based assessments of zoo welfare across taxonomic groups to inform the management strategy.

Author Contributions Conceptualization, S. Funding This research received no external funding. Conflicts of Interest The authors declare no conflict of interest. References 1. Salas M. Zoo Biol.

Ethics in zoos - STEVENS - - International Zoo Yearbook - Wiley Online Library

Zoo Licensing Act Veasey J. On comparing the behaviour of zoo housed animals with wild conspecifics as a welfare indicator, using the giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis as a model. Honess P. Welfare of Exotic Animals in Captivity. In: Valarie V. Behaviour of Exotic Pets. Farm Animal Welfare Council. Mellor D. The Five Freedoms. McMillan F. Quality of life in animals. Yeates J. Assessment of positive welfare: A review. Wemelsfelder F.

Animal welfare

How animals communicate quality of life: The qualitative assessment of behaviour. Green T.

Why Do Zoos Keep Animals That Are Not Endangered?

Panksepp J. Affective consciousness: Core emotional feelings in animals and humans. Melfi V.

Code of Professional Ethics

There are big gaps in our knowledge, and thus approach, to zoo animal welfare: A case for evidence-based zoo animal management. Portas T. Enhancing animal welfare by creating opportunities for positive affective engagement. Positive animal welfare states and encouraging environment-focused and animal-to-animal interactive behaviours.