Animal welfare in zoos

zoo_animals_SHblogAuthor Dr Sonya P. Hill


When did you last visit a zoo? Perhaps it was in your childhood, or more recently? You might have seen a range of enclosure styles, such as large naturalistic habitats, designed to provide animals with a wide range of choices and opportunities to access resources that are important to them, or more old-fashioned, ‘traditional’ zoo enclosures, with very unnatural-looking features, few retreat areas for the animals, and limited space. What can we infer about an animal’s welfare from looking at its enclosure and the resources provided? What other, animal-based indicators do we need to use when assessing welfare scientifically in zoos, and what kinds of challenges do we need to overcome in order to do so?

In my research, I use an evidence-based approach to investigate the welfare of a range of zoo-housed species, with the goal of continuous improvement. Responsible zoos should be providing the best possible conditions for the animals living there, as well as making meaningful contributions to conservation efforts in the wild and providing a good visitor experience; the welfare of zoo animals impacts on both of these areas as well. Some of my work focuses on the assessment of targeted housing and husbandry techniques, aimed at providing animals with appropriate resources, behavioural opportunities, choices and complexity.

You can find out more about my work HERE.

Dogs as pets and food in Vietnam

Dogs_blog postAuthor Dr Anthony Podberscek


Dogs are not only pets/companions, in some countries they are also food. Two issues arising from this are 1) is it ethical/OK to eat them? and 2) what is the welfare like for these animals? I’ve written previously about these issues in relation to the situation in South Korea. In July I’ll be giving a talk about the situation in Vietnam at the annual conference of the International Society for Anthrozoology in Barcelona, and the research will also soon be published as a book chapter in “Companion Animals in Everyday Life” (edited by Michał Pregowski).

In my research, funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, I collected data in two ways. Firstly, relevant information on the history and current status of dog use and consumption was sourced from academic literature, newspaper reports, websites, and animal welfare organizations. Secondly, in 2004, the polling agency Market & Opinion Research International (MORI, now known as Ipsos MORI) was contracted to survey 1000 adults (15 years and above) in the cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City about dogs. Respondents were asked about their attitudes to the roles that dogs had in their society and whether or not they would support a ban on eating certain animals, including dogs.

Over the past few decades, pet ownership has increased in popularity in Vietnam; popular breeds of dog are Pekingese, poodles, Chihuahuas, and Huskies. A magazine just for pet lovers—Me Thu Cung (A Passion for Pets) —commenced publication in 2014. Of the participants in the survey, 52% owned pet animals, for example dogs, cats, birds, and fish. The survey showed that, overall, people were supportive of the use of dogs as pets, as assistance animals, and as guard dogs, but were against the use of dogs as food. In line with this, there was support for a ban on the eating of dogs. However, there was a major difference of opinion when residents of the two cities were compared: the majority of people living in the north (Hanoi), as opposed to the south (Ho Chi Minh City), were actually supportive of using dogs for food and would not support a ban on the eating of dogs.

With increased interest in the keeping of purebred pet dogs and the promotion of kindness to dogs via animal welfare organizations, it will be interesting to see what happens to the prevalence of dog-meat eating in Vietnam in the coming years. In the meantime, the welfare of the dogs used as food (how they are raised, transported, and slaughtered) is of paramount importance.


Welfare and whale exploitation

whales-blogAuthor Prof Donald Broom


Five years ago a meeting was arranged, by the U.K. and some other International Whaling Commission (IWC) members, at which the subject of the welfare of whales during whaling was discussed. At this time, any mention of the word welfare was vetoed at IWC meetings by the small group of countries that killed whales. Professor Don Broom from Cambridge University was one of the speakers at that meeting in Looe, Cornwall, U.K. and one result was his paper in Animal Welfare, 22, 123-126 (2013) entitled “The science of animal welfare and its relevance to whales.” Later, there were talks on animal welfare by Broom and others at a fringe meeting of IWC in Jersey, U.K. and now the subject of animal welfare is on the IWC Agenda.

The IWC was started in order to consider the conservation of cetaceans so this subject has long been considered, for example by scientists like Ray Gambell. However, it must have been obvious to the countries that continued to kill whales and blocked the mention of animal welfare on any agenda item at the IWC, that the methods used were far from humane. Some of the effects on whale welfare of whaling activities are: disturbance by boats, harpoon entry, pulling harpooned whales to a boat, capture procedures, the point of unconsciousness and consequences for animals that escape after being harpooned. If an explosive harpoon is used, explosion in some parts of the body kills the whale but impacts in other parts can result in death only after many days or weeks.

The term ‘humane’, in relation to animals, means their treatment in such a way that their welfare is good to a certain high degree. The welfare is either above the threshold, in which case the treatment is humane, or it is not. Humane killing implies either that the treatment of the animals in the course of the killing procedure does not cause poor welfare, or that the procedure itself results in insensibility to pain and distress within a few seconds. With present methodologies for catching whales during whaling, it appears that the extent of poor welfare during catching and killing is always substantial. The magnitude of poor welfare is much greater than that during the use of any method detailed in law for legally killing a domestic or wild animal. The whale killing procedure would be humane for very few whales.


The health and welfare of dogs owned by homeless people

Author Dr David L Williams

Homeless people petsHave you walked past people on the streets of your town living with a dog by their side and stopped to chat to them and give their companion a stroke? Or maybe walked past wondering whether it really is appropriate for homeless people to own a pet?

A past vet student at Cambridge, who had grown up in Liverpool with many more homeless people than we have in Cambridge, worked with me to ask homeless people about their pets and give them a clinical examination. How healthy were these animals and what was the standard of their welfare? Remarkably good it turned out, and equal or often better than the dogs owned by people living in homes which we also interviewed and examined.

You might be interested to read our paper, recently published in the new online journal ‘Pet Behaviour Science’ and available at: by_homeless_people