Developing an Institutional Animal Welfare Program: A Case Study
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2006
Mark Stetter, DVM, DACZM; Jill Mellen, PhD
Disney’s Animal Programs, Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA


In conjunction with the opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we created a standard Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) for Disney’s Animal Programs (Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Living Seas, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Tri-Circle D Ranch). The original focus of the committee centered more on animals involved in research than animal welfare issues associated with a modern zoological facility.

Media attention around animal welfare issues at several zoological institutions over the past 10 years has encouraged many facilities to closely examine their animal welfare reporting processes. At Disney’s Animal Programs we realized that our IACUC, as we were conducting it, did not fulfill our needs. Our IACUC was more closely aligned with an academic or biomedical research facility rather than a zoological facility that exhibits animals, and whose research is focused on applied, noninvasive research and topics that specifically deal with captive management and conservation. To that end, Disney reorganized our IACUC into an animal welfare committee with a mission and goals better aligned with the issues around care of captive wildlife. This committee still is involved with reviewing research proposals and commenting on the scientific integrity of research projects, but the vast majority of this committee’s work deals with the animal welfare issues concerned with captive management of zoo and aquarium animals.

In the year since this committee was reorganized, we have focused our attention on two major projects. The first was to ensure that all members of Disney’s Animal Programs knew about this committee and its responsibilities. We developed an awareness campaign that included presentations by the animal welfare committee to all employees, and the distribution of large descriptive posters placed in areas to educate everyone about the animal welfare committee. The awareness campaign is intended to educate our staff about responsibility in ensuring uncompromising excellence in animal care and welfare, and support the role of the committee to provide oversight and guidance around animal welfare issues. These presentations are given during information sessions and at local team meetings. It is a 30-minute interactive presentation that includes didactic discussions about the differences between animal welfare and animal rights.

The second project was the development of an animal welfare concern reporting process. We wanted to ensure that every employee had a voice, and that all concerns around animal welfare were documented, discussed and addressed. Our animal programs team has always had several mechanisms for bringing forth animal welfare concerns, but they were not always in written form, and inconsistencies between animal teams were a factor.

Once established, the new animal welfare committee, Disney’s Animal Care and Welfare Committee (DACWC), developed a process that allowed employees within any animal department to effectively bring forth concerns, first to their leadership, then to the DACWC committee if further action was required. This process attempts to ensure that concerns can be investigated without fear of reprisals, and that all discussions and resolutions are shared with all parties involved. Our communication processes and agreements have always embraced open discussion of concerns, and direct leaders are the first level for dialogue. Concerns cannot be submitted anonymously, but all employees can openly take their concerns to higher tiers of leadership, culminating (if necessary) in the DACWC committee itself, to achieve adequate discussion and, ultimately, satisfactory resolution.

It is well understood that captive animal management is complex and there is wide diversity of opinion regarding how to deal with specific animal issues, including housing, collection, nutrition, enrichment, training, etc. We believe that no process or protocol can address all issues, but by providing a safe forum for open discussion, ideas can be presented and discussed for the common benefit of the animals in our care.


The authors are indebted to Jackie Ogden, John Lehnhardt, Tom Hopkins, and Barb Burkhalter for their assistance and direction in creating Disney’s Animal Care and Welfare Committee.


Speaker Information
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Mark Stetter, DVM, DACZM
Disney’s Animal Programs
Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA

Jill Mellen, PhD
Disney's Animal Programs
Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA

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