“Advancing Zoo Animal Welfare Science and Policy”

14 12 2014

Screenshot 2014-12-14 10.06.15Nice update from Heather on this meeting hosted by the Detroit Zoological Society’s Centre for Zoo Animal Welfare on Nov. 21-22, which she, Mike and Andrea attended. Maria and Becky had also planned on going, but the organizers didn’t want to hear their talks on mink enrichment. I was a bit miffed at the time, but can see now they wouldn’t have fitted the theme, and am very proud of Mike and Heather for being the only student presenters at the whole meeting.

The three of us drove to Michigan (along with a giant mink perseveration apparatus that occupied 70% of the back seat while Andrea napped uncomfortably in the remaining 30%). We encountered the first real snow and freezing rain of the season, but no trouble from the US border guards, who didn’t raise an eyebrow at the huge, sinister-looking cage-like device in the back seat (while, oddly, when Mike and I crossed back into Canada two days later with nothing but notebooks in the back seat, the Canadian border guards were suspicious enough to search the car and all our luggage).

The symposium schedule was so jam-packed that there (unfortunately) wasn’t time to take in much of the zoo itself (though we knew we were at a zoo because the woman greeting our arrival on the first morning wore a giraffe hat). However, the Ford Education Centre at Detroit Zoo is a really nice facility, and the format included a small group discussion event rather than a poster session: an interesting change from the typical. 

Otherwise, there were talks on welfare policy, advances in welfare science for zoo animals, and (new this year) compassionate conservation, given by zoo professionals, animal behaviour/welfare researchers, conservation program and animal welfare organization representatives, and even a wildlife attorney.  Mike impressed the attendees with his talk on the links between negative affective states and morbidity/mortality in captive animals and his thoughtful comments during question periods; and I did my part to try and convince the zoo community that it should put its wealth of catalogued data on zoo animal health and behaviour to maximal use by teaming up with welfare scientists with the expertise to run comparative studies to pinpoint which species most need special attention or resources.  A spectator this year, Andrea particularly enjoyed a talk from the co-founders of Wildlife SOS, who described the inspiring work they do – with very few resources – to rescue India’s dancing sloth bears and help their former handlers to launch alternative enterprises. 

Other highlights included chatting with a friendly zoo vet about their scariest animal patients, and dinner in a butterfly greenhouse.