Animal Welfare Initiatives for an Evening Holiday Lights Event at the Houston Zoo
The Houston Zoo hosts a popular annual holiday event, Zoo Lights, from November to January. With over 200,000 evening guests, numerous light displays, and music playing late into the night during the season, the welfare of resident animals is of concern. Through a partnership between the zoo’s special events and animal care departments, the approach to maintaining animal welfare, while providing a satisfactory guest experience during Zoo Lights has been achieved through several measures. First, the structure of the event is a single walking path that was strategically mapped to avoid animals subjectively thought to be stressed by the event. Second, shifts in marketing of the event to the public altered the expectation of seeing animals at night to a focus on the lights themselves. Third, circulating animal care staff members in key areas during the event maintained animal welfare by addressing any concerns immediately. Lastly, generating objective data with the goal of supporting meaningful management changes included sound measurements in predetermined areas, scored behavioral observations for several species, and fecal glucocorticoid analysis on select individual animals. All of these concurrent efforts require effective communication and cooperation between multiple departments to maintain positive animal welfare during the Zoo Lights event.
The authors would like to thank the dedicated animal care staff at the Houston Zoo for their commitment to animal welfare.