The dates are 6th & 7th of December 2016

Hosted by
San Francisco Zoological Society

One of the results of modern animal care programs is that large numbers of animals live to be quite old, leading to a growing demographic of captive geriatric animals. In response, many holistic animal care programs have begun practicing a “cradle to grave” philosophy, striving to ensure optimal and predominantly positive animal welfare at every life stage. Yet much is still unknown about best practices for assessing and ensuring optimal welfare throughout the final stages of life.

Caretakers are discovering that aged animals are unique in their physical and emotional needs and preferences. Aged animals may be behaviourally more subdued than younger ones, use their space in different ways, and may also experience events differently than they used to. Elderly animals often play specific and important roles within their social groups, and the death of an animal can be a significant event, eliciting reactions such as mourning as “funereal” behaviours. Caretakers can easily overlook or misinterpret animals’ presentations of their welfare states, particularly in realms where empirical research is lacking. Animal caretakers who understand the needs and wants of aged animals can help to provide the most appropriate care and make compassionate and well-timed end-of-life decisions.

For companion as well as zoo animals, there is a growing attention to senior care and end-of-life support. This workshop will integrate work from several fields, including ethology, veterinary hospice and palliative care, animal ethics, environmental enrichment, animal training, nutrition and exhibit/indoor housing. The workshop aims to generate discussions that expand our understanding of aged animal care and welfare and provide practical applications for implementing geriatric care programs. We will also consider the roles of elderly animals in their social groups and how their loss might affect both the animals and people in their lives.

The workshop will be aimed at professional animal care staff from zoos and aquariums, as well as animal welfare researchers and veterinarians looking to support the graceful ageing of the animals in their care.

Download Caring for Elderly Zoo Animals Provisional Program
Download Caring for Elderly Zoo Animals Flyer

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Dr. Jason Watters is the Vice President of Wellness and Animal Behaviour at San Francisco Zoo. There, he leads a research program aimed at studying and applying techniques to ensure that animals are enabled to thrive. He received his Ph.D in animal behaviour from University of California, Davis, where he also performed post-doctoral studies. The foci of Dr. Watters' work are animal personalities, behavioral indicators of welfare, a general theory of environmental enrichment and what makes animals good teachers. Dr. Watters also serves as the executive editor of the journal Zoo Biology.
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Graham Crawford DVM, MPVM is Chief of Veterinary Services at the San Francisco Zoo. Since graduating from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, he has worked as a livestock and companion animal veterinarian in private practice, and a zoo and wildlife veterinarian at the San Francisco Zoo. He has worked with free-ranging wildlife in California and internationally, including in Madagascar where he is currently developing an integrated village poultry-wildlife health program.
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David A. Jessup DVM, MPVM, Dipl. ACZM, has been a wildlife veterinarian for 40 years working primarily in California and other Western States on native free-ranging wildlife. He has also worked in Mexico, India and several African nations. Dave’s work has involved improving capture methods, disease field investigation and research, oil spill prevention and response, and ecosystem health. His wife, Mary Dixon RN, is a hospice and palliative care nurse and has inspired Dr. Jessup’s interest in this area.
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Dr. Lynette Hart completed an Educational Psychology MA at UC Berkeley and then PhD at Rutgers University, studying rat ultrasonic vocalisations. She came to UC Davis in 1982, when human-animal interactions (HAI) was on the upswing, co-editing The Pet Connection, spearheading the Center for Animals in Society, teaching human-animal interactions, and co-founding the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ). From studying the lifelong relationships of mahouts with captive elephants in India and Nepal, she published several papers on the topic. As Professor at the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, the psychosocial aspects of HAI and special relationships of people with assistance/service dogs are current research emphases.
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Dr. Jessica Pierce has written and lectured about bioethics for over two decades, and is regarded as one of the founders of the field of environmental bioethics and a leading scholar in animal ethics. She is the author of nine books and numerous popular and scholarly essays on bioethics and animals. Her most recent book, The Last Walk, explores end-of-life care for companion animals. She lives in Colorado with her husband, daughter, and two dogs. More information can be found by clicking here
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Greg A. Vicino, Associate Curator of Elephants and Animal Welfare at San Diego Zoo Global, studied Biological Anthropology at UC Davis where he focused on non-human primate, husbandry, behaviour, welfare, and socialisation. Previously, he held positions in both behavioural research management, and animal care at UC Davis, as an Animal Care Supervisor of Primates for the San Diego Zoo, and Animal Care Manager at both San Diego Zoo and Al Ain Zoo. Mr. Vicino focuses on integrated management strategies, in which all animals receive the benefit of every specialty at each facility. With a heavy emphasis on feeding strategies, behavioural diversity, and species specific social behaviour, he has championed the idea that every animal in our care should be given an Opportunity to Thrive.
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Nicola Field is the Bear & Vet Team Director at Animals Asia Foundation’s China Bear Rescue Centre, where she has worked for ten years. She heads up the vet and bear-keeping staff taking care of the bears, dogs, cats and macaques on site and currently the bears at a former farm in Nanning, Guangxi. Her main role is ensuring optimum care of all the animals on site with the support of a fantastic team, as well as promoting the work of the organisation and bear care. Nicola is also a key member of the China Bear Team focused on the strategic planning process of ending bear bile farming in China. Nicola recently became co-chair of the IUCN Captive Bear Specialist Group and is also a member of the IUCN Asiatic Black Bear Specialist Group. She has an MSc in Wildlife Biology & Conservation, as well as Animal Management qualifications. Nicola worked for nearly 10 years as a keeper in the UK, taking care of a variety of species, including North American black bears. She spent two years in education in the UK working as an animal-care assessor. She has also spent time working in Uganda and Vietnam as a researcher on conservation projects and also at the Colobus Trust in Kenya.
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Sabrina Brando is a psychologist with a MSc in Animal Studies, interested in the human-animal relationship. She has in interest in animal welfare, particularly from the 24/7 across lifespan approach, how various systems and working methods affect animals short-and long-term. She is the owner of AnimalConcepts and works world wide in the field of animal welfare and animal advocacy, a short bio can be found by clicking here. Sabrina is involved in various research and writing projects on animal cognition, behaviour and welfare.


Dr. Jason Watters

An approach to assessing the behavioural wellness of ageing zoo animals

A cradle-to-grave approach for managing animal welfare requires care adjustments for varied life stages. It is now very common for zoo animals to reach extended ages. Aged animals may experience frequent physical and behavioural changes and it is unclear what to expect with these changes. As a result, assessing the well-being of these animals should occur frequently. I will present a simple behaviour-based method that can be used to assess the well-being of ageing animals. The technique is inexpensive and based on both inputs that support and outputs that indicate behavioural wellness. It considers both caretaker effort and animals’ perspective of their well-being.

Graham Crawford DVM, MPVM

Veterinary care for elderly zoo animals

Ageing zoo animals are confronted with the range of medical problems similar to those found in companion animals and humans. Common ailments include organ failure, arthritis and mobility problems, dental disease, cancer, and infection. The ability to diagnose and treat diseases in zoo animals is influenced by a number of factors, including species behaviour, facilities, and personnel. At the San Francisco Zoo, our preventative medicine program is the foundation for early diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Regular animal health reviews and examinations, and awake medical behaviours such as body weight and blood collection, dental exams, ultrasound and x-ray help detect and monitor disease. Animal care staff plays an essential role by observing the subtle changes in behaviour, appetite, body condition, and voiding that might indicate a problem. When a diagnosis is made, treatment plans are formulated, taking into account prognosis, discomfort, treatment compliance, and the risk and stress of treatment to the animal. In some cases, objective quality of life assessments are initiated to help inform staff on the success and impact of treatment on the animal, and to guide end of life decision making.

David A. Jessup DVM, MPVM, Dipl. ACZM

Hospice in a zoologic medicine setting

Over the last 25-30 years the concepts of human palliative care and hospice have moved from new and controversial to very widely accepted and expected. Hospice care for pets has seen a similar rise in acceptance in veterinary medicine over the last 10-15 years. Quality of life indicators that have been developed for pets and domestic livestock can be adapted for a broader range of species. Although objective data helps guide decision making, subjective feelings are also important. Medicine (and life) are a mixture of art and science, and we don’t need to be embarrassed to admit that. Wild animals in captivity generally receive excellent and regular veterinary care and are surrounded by care givers who love and respect them and who want to see to their needs as they grow and age. Preparing for the end of life of zoo animals, and recognising the parallels with hospice, including the concerns of family and care givers, is a natural extension of all that has come before.

Dr. Lynette Hart

Supporting animal caregivers’ wellbeing

The changing caregiving for exotic animals in zoological settings requires constantly updating personal experience with new knowledge. In this serving profession, one partners with animals and shares their lives. Career and life satisfaction rests on making these contributions. When it is not feasible to be effective, the workplace becomes unsatisfying. As captive animals enter their senior years, healthcare shifts from working toward a cure to improving the quality of life—this brings increasing challenges. Hospice techniques help the animal, but the caregiver’s physical and emotional burden needs to be kept in balance with escalating care, to avoid heightening risks for depression. Prolonged grieving after a death by the animal’s caregiver is more likely when extreme caregiving time has been spent. In toxic environments, burdens that are manageable in supportive settings become stressful. Caregiving professions are mobilising to implement self-care. Recreation, relaxation, adequate sleep, exercise, and routine group debriefings, are emerging practices for personal wellbeing. Colleagues should deliver supportive messages. Veterinary students spread the expression, “It’s OK” – to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, depressed…. Health professional Rachel Remen’s course, “The Healing Arts,” could be adapted to zoological settings for those helping animals: reviewing professional goals, and exploring personal issues around loss, death, and awe.

Dr. Jessica Pierce

Ethical challenges in caring for geriatric zoo animals

As methods of caring for zoo animals get better and better, more animals are living into their sunset years. At the same time, the commitment of zoos to providing animals with a good life has also grown stronger, and zoos are doing what they can to keep their residents physically and emotionally healthy. But caring for elderly animals raises unique practical and moral challenges. This talk will explore some of the ethical issues that arise during care of geriatric animals. For example, why might we have special obligations to the elderly, and what might these be? Should animals be “retired” from public viewing? What might constitute a “good death” for an animal in a zoo? How do we balance extended life against compromised quality of life, when these seem to be in tension? What might we borrow from the field of companion animal hospice and palliative care?

Dying, grief, and the celebration of life

Death and dying are often shrouded in silence. But as experts in hospice and in grief counselling observe, it is often healthier for everyone involved if death is openly acknowledged and accepted. This talk will explore bereavement and loss, including ways in which the death of animals might be acknowledged and celebrated by zoo staff and the public (funerals, memorials, obituaries, graveyards, forms of remembrance). We will also look at the impact of death and dying on animal communities (do animals have an awareness of death or display death-related behaviour? Do they grieve?). Finally, we’ll explore the impact of zoo animal illness and death on their human caretakers.

Greg A. Vicino BSc.

Ageing and social influence

Historically, social influence has played an important role in captive animal management of highly social, multi-generational groups. It is often the case that animals with high levels of social influence serve to enhance the experience of everyone in the group through leadership, mediation, or simply as a reliable social partner. Due to advances in care, and the reluctance to disturb social harmony, these animals are often surrounded some of the most complex discussions regarding end of life care and ultimately euthanasia. We plan to review some of the decision making processes and adaptive management techniques that can mitigate the impact of absent or diminished social influence from aged individuals.

Nicola Field MSc.

Geriatric management of captive bears: Experience of bears rescued from bile farms in China

Across Asia, up to 20,000 bears are cruelly farmed for their bile despite the herbal and synthetic alternatives that exist. Animals Asia is devoted to end the practice of bear bile farming and we have rescued 600 bears in China and Vietnam since 1994. Bears rescued are mainly Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) but we have rescued a number of brown bears (Ursus arctos) and sun bears (Ursus malayanus) too. They vary in age from 2 month old cubs to bears who have been kept on farms for up to 30 years. Bears on bile farms are generally kept in very small cages, in a non stimulating environment where they endure tremendous physical and psychological suffering. When they arrive at our sanctuaries they have gone through a lot of trauma and it takes time for them to adjust to a new life. Among the groups of bears we manage, a large number are physically challenged – blind, or missing limbs, claws and teeth. Increasingly we are managing an ageing population of compromised bears. These geriatric bears have a variety of disorders including mobility, hypertension, ocular and dental disease. Consequently we need to address and consider increased veterinary management and more intensive husbandry and management practices. This talk discusses the issues we have encountered in our sanctuary managing and caring for geriatric bears, the practices we have adopted to meet the bears’ needs as well as how as a team of care givers we manage their welfare, provide them with a good death and manage the process of grief.

Sabrina Brando MSc.

Geriatric animal exhibit design, environmental enrichment and training

Geriatric animals often have special needs with regards to their environment, in environmental enrichment and animal training programs. Environments often need modification and dependent on the species, it could involve lower steps to get around the habitat, into and out of the pool, softer substrates to rest and sleep on, stable structures to interact with, adapted climatic indoor and/or outdoor environments. Environmental enrichment often needs to be adapted to suit the individual, taking in consideration locomotion abilities that might have deteriorated, a more limited range of motion, reduced cognitive capacities, dietary needs. Animal training can be a useful tool to help facilitate the care of elderly zoo animals through voluntary and collaborative weighing, nail clipping, dental care and medicine intake. Holistic animal welfare assessments, considering psychological and physical aspects, can guide animal care and wellbeing programs for the ageing individual.


This seminar will be held in English.


Registration includes lectures, workshops, lunch, coffee / tea breaks, certificate of attendance and access to the San Francisco Zoo during the seminar.

Regular registration $ 175.00
Student registration (fulltime students only) $95.00



San Francisco Zoo
The Bernard Osher Great Hall
Great Hwy
San Francisco
CA 94132
United States


All photos in the slideshow below are generously provided by artist and photographer Isa Leshko!
More information on Isa’s work can be found here

Copyright Isa Leshko

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