Kangaroos and wallabies, collectively known as macropods, are found in zoos all over the world. But, for reasons that are not yet clear, these animals suffer with a condition that seriously affects their welfare – ‘lumpy jaw’. Lumpy jaw is a bacterial infection of the oral cavity that is distinguished by characteristic proliferation of the jawbones.The condition is painful, difficult to treat, and often results in the death of the animal. Lumpy jaw is frequently found in zoo macropods, but is rare in the wild. It is therefore suggested that aspects of macropod captivity may be associated with the occurrence of lumpy jaw.
My PhD is investigating the extent of the lumpy jaw problem in zoos across Australia and Europe, where macropods are popular exhibits. I am also investigating aspects of macropod housing and husbandry that may influence the development of this painful condition. Results from this research will be used to develop new husbandry guidelines for the care of macropods with the aim of reducing incidence of lumpy jaw and subsequently improving the health and welfare of one of Australia’s most iconic species.
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.