Practical Tools to Assist with Auditing Welfare in Zoos
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2019
Sarah Chapman1, BVM&S, MSc, DZooMed (Mammalian), MRCVS; Sabrina Brando2, BSc, MSc
1Chapman Zoo Consultancy, England; 2AnimalConcepts, University of Stirling, Scotland


Welfare assessment in zoos is challenging and involves the use of a combination of measures and approaches to assess an individual’s quality of life.5,6 These can include visual or hands-off methods; inspection of health, husbandry and demographic records, and the use of scientific studies. Behavioral indicators and physiologic measures can be combined with clinical and pathologic reviews as part of an overall assessment with additional information about enclosures and husbandry.2 Many of these processes can be time consuming and rely heavily on the standard of records kept. Additional non-invasive measures of health require access to samples, such as urine and faeces. These can be challenging to collect and store, require laboratory access and the necessary budget for diagnostic testing. Many large collections have research departments and access to staff and students for data collection and entry, whereas smaller zoos or those in less developed areas do not have these options.

There have been a number of recent publications which have reviewed techniques for monitoring welfare.1,3,6 The Zoos Expert Committee in the United Kingdom produced a summary of systems used to assist zoos with this process.2 It is accepted that for welfare to be monitored, longitudinal data is required and robust methodology needed. Welfare auditing tools can be used to assist with this process.4 This presentation will outline the use of two different tools which have been used as part of an auditing process in a number of different zoological collections internationally.

One tool involved the use of a checklist of questions which assessed the following aspects of the animals’ lives (i.e., resource-based measures):

  • Physical environment
  • Social environment
  • Nutrition
  • Behavior
  • Health and animal care

A total of 25 questions were asked per enclosure/species. Questions in each section were given a score of 0 (not met), 1 (partly met) or 2 (met). A maximum score of 50 was available. The majority of the questions could be answered by talking to the keepers and viewing the animals and enclosures. Others required more time (e.g., behavioral assessment, clinical and pathology reviews). The scores were then placed in a table to create a priority list for the zoos to be able to work on improvements and highlight areas of concern. The checklist could then be repeated to monitor scores over time or after significant changes had occurred within the zoo.

The second tool used the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Welfare Strategy 2015, which has nine chapters and is based on the Five Domains model of animal welfare.7 This was used to assess welfare efforts at zoological collections. Each chapter has a list of recommendations and questions. These lists were discussed with the senior management of zoological collections and details filled into a table. Site visits, including viewing behind the scenes, and discussions with keepers supported details to be added to the table. Each row was then assigned a color. Green indicated that processes and procedures are in place, are monitored, updated, and reviewed as appropriate. Amber indicated that processes and procedures are partially in place, and red indicated that no processes or procedures are in place. These color assignments were then used to create a priority list for improvements. This list can be used as the basis of an action plan for follow up with deadlines allocated as appropriate.

These tools were effective and practical to use in a variety of captive animal situations. They are also easily repeatable to monitor changes over time. They can be used to highlight concerns and focus further evaluation of welfare at an individual level.


The authors thank all the collections where these tools were used and helped to highlight priority areas which lead to improvements in animal’s welfare.

Literature Cited

1.  Barrows M. Welfare assessment in zoo animals. Vet Rec. 2017;181:141–142.

2.  DEFRA Zoos Expert Committee handbook 2012. Available from: Accessed February 21, 2019. (VIN editor: Original link was modified as of 11-4-20.)

3.  Hill SP, Broom DM. Measuring zoo animal welfare: theory and practice. Zoo Biol. 2009;28:531–544.

4.  Justice WSM, O’Brien MF, Szyszka O, Shotton J, Gilmour JEM, Riordan P, Wolfensohn S. Adaptation of the animal welfare assessment grid (AWAG) for monitoring animal welfare in zoological collections. Vet Rec. 2017;181:143.

5.  Mellor DJ. Updating animal welfare thinking; moving beyond the Five Freedoms towards a life worth living. Animals. 2016;6(3):21.

6.  Wolfensohn S, Shotton J, Bowley H, Davies S, Thompson S, Justice WSM. Assessment of welfare in zoo animals: towards optimum quality of life. Animals. 2018;8:110.

7.  World Association of Zoos and Aquariums Welfare Strategy 2015. Available from: Accessed February 21,2019. (VIN editor: Original link was modified as of 11-4-20.)


Speaker Information
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Sarah Chapman, BVM&S, MSc, DZooMed (Mammalian), MRCVS
Chapman Zoo Consultancy

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