With the last days of the year in my mind something popped up what I wanted to share through my blog. I’ve been talking with my brother and other close friends about this particular thought what I find very interesting. At the moment im with my family in Malmedy. A nice village in the Ardenne of Belgium close to the German border with beautiful nature and stunning views. Yesterday I did a 15km hike in the hills of the Ardenne what was beautiful on its own. Not just the walk, the nature and the fresh air but also the company that I had. I was just with my brother. We walked for around 4 to 5 hours so plenty to talk about.

Both of us find psychological motivation very interesting, him in people and sales and me with animals. We came to a point that every book we read every piece of knowledge we try to gather to extend our knowledge is not completely based on facts. Many are thoughts based on test done on an x amount of people or animals. This gives me the focus of what if you fall outside the general audience that does not respond too a typical way being tested in the psychological books. We came to a point in our talk that we both agreed in that people want to have an answer on anything. Of course, it’s understandable, but is it? I mean why do we want to know everything all the time? You know what wanting to know everything is actually ok but accepting that we can’t know or do everything is the main issue we humans have developed. Same is accountable for the degree of agree to disagree but this might be a topic for another day.

Im not a big reader but if the topic is interesting I will read a bit more. When I was reading this part about a chimpanzee cognitive test I got a bit worried about the human race. The ape was shown a screen with numbers blinking faster and faster. To a point where the Chimpanzee was able to do it in a split second. I read that after discovering the intelligence in such a way people could not accept that an ape had such a quick and clear response to numbers blinking in a split second and recognising that it can’t be that an animal is better at this they us. Ignorant isn’t it?

From out that perspective I want to talk Welfare. We like to talk about best “Welfare” practises as modern zookeepers very much and I’m sure we all know what we mean but it already starts when we have to explain exactly what Welfare actually means. There are plenty of ways to describe this word but that’s where the problem starts right away. We can’t agree fully on the explanations so how can we get welfare to a higher standard?

  • Welfare is about feelings
  • Feelings are impossible to measure
  • We can measure things that effect the feelings

CAUSES: Health, Physical Environment, Social Environment, Diet, Climate etc.

  • We can measure things that are effected by feelings

EFFECTS: Heatlh, Abnormal Behaviours, Stress Responses etc.

  • Frequently assumed factors effecting feelings, and factors affected by feelings are directly comparable to feelings.

Source: Wild Welfare

So, it states that welfare is about feelings and feelings are unmeasurable. What comes down to that we are guessing everything an animal does because we don’t know what animals think and for what reason. Don’t get me wrong we can come very close with assessments but we are still not 100% sure about if we are exactly right. Reading another book called “Animal Minds, Beyond Cognition to Conciousness by Donald R. Griffin” what states…

If a particular species of animal is capable of some type of conscious experience that our brains cannot generate, how can we ever hope to learn what it is?

Pretty valid question I would say.

Welfare is a very hot topic these days and we have to take it very seriously. Many of us try to give the animals they care for the best welfare standard based on what we think the animals need and how we think it should be. Being busy with a complete enrichment program in our zoo I decided to get the keepers to find out what the animals natural counterparts do to be able to discover what the needs are the animal needs so we can try to come as close to these needs as possible. This will help the welfare for the animal… but please don’t forget that welfare is a word for many different subjects in an animal’s life.

The system I like very much is the 5-domain model from Wild Welfare. Its covering quite a lot of subjects needed to decide if good welfare is practised for the animals we work with.

Source: http://wildwelfare.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Wild-Welfare-Core-Fundamentals-in-Animal-Care-2017.pdf

Many different zoos are busy with a welfare assessment system to be able to measure the welfare status of their animals. Many different systems are around  and many zoos build their own what fits them best. It’s a rough task to build a system because there is always something that doesn’t fit exactly in the system you are building. We need answers to say a system is successful. Although is it ok to not have an answer? Could we be happy as well when we do not have the answer on particular behaviours the animals give us? As long as we know problem behaviour doesn’t occur with well thought through programs that give the animals the need they need.

Maybe the problem is that we want to know everything and we want to be better as anything and everything all the time. What comes down to that we might be overthinking sometimes while the solution might just be lying next to us. Hardest part of all, we need to know why the problem exists to be able to find the best solution.

Welfare practises come with a lot of observations and assessments. Welfare is important and we need to understand the animal to give them the best welfare practise… but unfortunately we are never able to understand the animal completely and there for we should look more into why an animal performs particular behaviour and not challenge them because we humans think we are the best in everything.

Peter Giljam

“Thinking Outside the Zoo”



Peter is a passionate Animal Consultant that beside teaching you about Operant Conditioning makes sure you will go home motivated and inspired. Make sure you read his Bio!

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