“An evaluation of zoo animal welfare assessment from inspection to daily practices with recommendations for a holistic approach”.


Position: The use of holistic and interactive approaches both in the daily care of the animals and in the inspection process will improve zoo animal welfare.

This research project identified gaps, ongoing efforts and future directions in the current process from zoo inspections to daily care.


Animals have been housed under human care for thousands of years, with ancient menageries found in Egypt and China, the Tower menagerie in London in England, and at Versailles in France. Today many species of wild animals are housed in zoos worldwide and legislation has been instated to ensure good animal welfare. The first EU legislation specifically regarding zoo animals was the 1999 Zoos Directive (The keeping of wild animals in zoos EU Council Directive 1999/22/EC). With regards to this research project it is important to note that the main focus of this directive is on the conservation of biodiversity and not animal wellbeing. The Zoos Directive does not mention zoo animal welfare directly, nor does it focus on the individual animal. Two frequently housed species in zoos are compared and contrasted, the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) being the most kept cetacean in under human care and the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), housed in zoos, but also often used in laboratories and are allowed to be kept as companion animals in certain countries such as the UK. The science of animal welfare, from both farm and zoo disciplines have developed different animal welfare assessment frameworks, based on both input criteria (resources given to the animals) and animal-based (outcome, i.e. what do animals do, choose, etc.) parameters. The 12-point animal welfare assessment framework developed originally developed for farm was used to investigate animal welfare efforts and assessments in the two species above mentioned.

The research project revolved around 3 primary research questions:
  1. Does a UK zoo inspection form adequately reflect the holistic approach of input and outcome based parameters according to the 12 welfare assessment criteria?
  2. A) Do husbandry guidelines for common marmoset and bottlenose dolphin wellbeing include input and outcome based parameters according to the 12 welfare assessment criteria, including the latest research findings? and B) What has been published in the scientific literature?
  3. A) How do caretakers evaluate animal wellbeing on a daily basis? B) Are these evaluations input or outcome based or both? C) How do inspections influence animal care from a caregiver perspective?


A content analysis of the species husbandry guidelines was conducted, as well as searching scientific publications and the UK zoo inspection form. The goal of the evaluation was to find trends and identify the best care practices for the common marmosets and common bottlenose dolphins. The analysis was conducted to evaluate whether the husbandry guidelines are consistent with the current research and whether these guidelines fit into the 12 criteria framework. All data were set in context of the 12-point animal welfare assessment framework and coded based on being 1) input and 2) outcome.

Interviews with caretakers with at least 3 years of experience of the species in question were conducted and the data were also set in context of the 12-point animal welfare assessment framework and coded based on being 1) input and 2) outcome. Closed- and open-ended questions were used to let participants use their own words to answer and/or describe how they care for animals and assess animal welfare, focussed also on the individual animal to highlight individual differences


This project generated a huge amount of data and the results section is close to 100 pages. The entire paper can be downloaded below, including appendices. The main points in the discussion are:

  1. Through the evaluation of the inspection form it was concluded that it does not reflect the input and outcome parameters according to the 12 welfare assessment criteria.
  2. The EAZA Callitrichidae Best Practice Guidelines that covers the common marmoset is exemplary; a model for other species managed in zoos. It includes 10 input and 12 animal-based parameters for the 12 welfare assessment criteria, based on scientific literature. There is enough current research to complete the husbandry manual to have all criteria covered from an input aspect; studies involving animal-based approaches can also serve as input criteria. An updated version including new research up to 2016 would certainly cover all criteria and assessments. The Editors, Tag Chair and Collaborators have done an excellent job compiling these guidelines. The EAAM The Standards and Guidelines for the management of bottlenose dolphins states provisions and is mostly input-based. Although the document covers 10 of the input criteria and 2 of the animal-based parameters, none have references on which these provisions are based. The literature review shows research in all areas of the animal-based parameters, which can serve as best practice for input criteria. The development of a professional husbandry manual is the next step.
  3. Marmoset and dolphin caregivers use mainly behavioural indicators/animal-based parameters to evaluate animal welfare on a daily basis, including emotional expressions such as fear and joy. Input criteria like environmental parameters are also used, such as temperature, shade and quality and type of food. How animals move and react to the caregiver, their feeding as well as social interaction behaviours are some of the examples of evaluation parameters given by caregivers of both species. From an animal caregiver’s perspective, zoo inspections do not influence or affect animal care. Most caregivers indicated that they are not involved with the inspections and/or they do not know what exactly is involved in an inspection. However many caregivers pointed out that the inspection process could be vastly improved.


This project sprang from a love and care for nature and specifically all animals, wild and housed under human care, through a 25-year career in zoo animal care and welfare. Animals housed in zoos deserve our full commitment in providing for the best life they could possibly have. Their wellbeing and possibility to thrive is our responsibility and duty as well as joy and professional caregiver takes this very seriously. The field of zoo animal welfare is continuously evolving through science and the development of animal welfare assessment approaches as current research has shown. Zoo professionals of all levels are doing extensive work to advance knowledge and care and zoo inspections in the UK are trying to incorporate specific aspects into animal welfare assessment protocols. Future directions for a holistic approach to zoo animal welfare include an interdisciplinary and integrated approach, from the zoo inspection to daily care and welfare assessment. Science conducted in zoos and its practical applications can inform and advance animal care and welfare programs, as well as impact the development of animal protection and law and protection. Recommendations for a holistic approach in zoo animal wellbeing assessment from inspection to daily practices are outlined below.


With regards to the zoo inspections the following recommendations are proposed:

  1. More frequent ‘virtual inspections’ of animal welfare through the use of long-term data such as evidence of good social interactions, including human-animal interactions, the interest in environment and enrichment, feeding and health. Evidence of good animal welfare through validated scientific approaches in zoo animal welfare assessment established by the professional zoo community as well as others in the scientific community
  2. In addition to scheduled zoo inspections, zoo and animal welfare experts with an interdisciplinary approach should perform unexpected inspections randomly across the year and seasons. In additions to a veterinarian, inspections should be conducted by people with an extensive knowledge and practical experience of exotic animal behaviour as well training in holistic animal welfare science.


The EAZA Callitrichidae Best Practice Guidelines is exemplary, a model for other species managed in zoos. In combination with the equally exemplary Marmoset Care website, they provide a wealth of information for good common marmosets welfare. Each zoo-housed species merits these types of resources to be developed and to be dynamically maintained.
The EAAM The Standards and Guidelines for the management of bottlenose dolphins needs immediate attention; a proper set of husbandry and best practice guidelines needs to be developed.

With regards to husbandry and best practice guidelines the following recommendations are proposed:

  1. Development of an online digital database which allows for easy integration of new scientific findings as they come available, or at least on a yearly basis. When husbandry guidelines are always as up to date as possible with the latest science and potential practical applications, they truly become Best Practise Guidelines
  2. Husbandry guidelines should be available in a wide variety of languages as many caregivers and other zoo professionals speak another language than English
  3. Husbandry and best practice guidelines should specifically outline animal care and assessment frameworks, including the need to focus on animal-based parameters, as well as validated input resources.


Many professional zoo animal caregivers are committed to the animals under their care, are well educated in a variety of sciences like biology, zoology and animal welfare, and often invest out of pocket to develop their professional career. Caregivers do not always get the training, or the time, support or access to information such as inspection requirements, husbandry guidelines, the latest books and research, or opportunities to attend conferences.

With regards to animal care and welfare the following recommendations are proposed:

  1. Animal caregivers should always be actively involved in animal welfare and care program development and assessment due to their unique position close to the animals
  2. Animal caregivers should be knowledgeable about input and outcome in animal welfare, the scientific language of animal welfare, and be actively involved in provision for and assessment
  3. Animal caregivers should be able to have access to scientific literature, internet and other resources to maintain and update their knowledge in experience of animal welfare, including professional development conferences and training provided by the zoo
  4. Animal caregiver knowledge and experience should be used as a valuable source
  5. Documenting programs and methods should be developed to tap into the daily caregiver actions and observations to aid in the short and long-term provisions and assessment of animal welfare


A link to download the entire MSc. thesis will be available here soon.

Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked we will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.