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Keywords:

  • zoo animal welfare;
  • keeper assessments;
  • animal well-being;
  • animal-based assessments;
  • welfare-monitoring tool

Abstract

Zoological institutions are in urgent need of identifying and implementing welfare assessment tools that allow for ongoing, quantitative monitoring of individual animal well-being. Although the American Zoological Association's (AZA) Animal Welfare Committee (AWC) promotes the use of such tools in internal review processes, current approaches to institutional welfare assessment are resource-based and outline the resources, environmental parameters and “best practices” recommended for promoting good welfare in a species in general. We highlight the value of incorporating animal-based monitoring tools that capture the individual animal's perspective and subjective experiences, including positive events and feelings, by validating zookeepers' qualitative assessments. We present evidence that, across a variety of species, caretakers' assessments of traits related to the well-being of individual animals can be both reliable and valid. Furthermore, we demonstrate that among researchers investigating the welfare of farm, laboratory, companion and even zoo animals, support already exists for developing and validating instruments that objectively evaluate the qualitative assessments of caretakers. Finally, we outline a process currently being evaluated at Brookfield Zoo for developing, validating and testing a cost-effective, user-friendly monitoring tool that will help to quantify keepers' qualitative assessments of individual well-being and can be integrated into daily operations. This tool (i.e. species-specific Welfare Score Sheets designed through consultation with animal experts) will result in weekly scores of individual well-being that are expected to provide a first indicator of welfare issues in the collection. Specifically, scores can be reviewed during regular workgroup meetings to identify welfare issues proactively, to assess whether particular conditions, practices or events impact individual well-being, and finally, to evaluate the effectiveness of efforts to address welfare issues. Upon completion of the tool validation and testing phases, we plan to make the Welfare Score Sheets for our 12 study species available to other institutions, and the methods we applied may serve as a “blueprint” for creating similar tools for additional species and institutions. Zoo Biol 28:545–560, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.