Zoo scientist observing a plains zebra in exhibit Zoo scientist observing a plains zebra in exhibit

Animal Welfare Science Program

Zoo scientist observing a pygmy hippo in exhibit

Lincoln Park Zoo uses science to improve the welfare, or quality of life, of animals in human care. The Animal Welfare Science Program continually evaluates and enhances animal welfare by asking and answering questions that directly impact quality of life for zoo animals. Its experts regularly share animal welfare science through presentations and publications, provide training to young scientists, and work with the larger zoo community to broaden the impact of their research.

What Is Animal Welfare? 

Animal welfare, generally speaking, refers to an individual animal’s quality of life. While care is something humans provide to animals, welfare is what each animal is experiencing internally.

What Impacts Animal Welfare? 

Many aspects of an animal’s world can impact welfare, including physical health, social interactions, exposure to light and sound, relationships with animal keepers, and the degree to which the animal feels in control of its habitat. What’s more, the welfare of different animals can vary even when experiencing the same care, depending, for example, on their history or temperament.

Inforgraphic explaining the relationship between animal care and animal welfare. Care is provided via animal management, enrichment, nutrition, positive reinforcement training, and veterinary services. Welfare is measured via behavior, habitat use, hormones, and other measurables.

How It Works

Evaluate

Animal welfare scientists use an ever-expanding toolbox to evaluate welfare. One of their primary tools is ZooMonitor, a behavioral-monitoring app developed by Lincoln Park Zoo scientists. Each day, a large team of trained volunteers and interns uses this app to systematically gather information about the behavior and habitat use of zoo animals. Welfare scientists and Animal Care staff then review this information to infer welfare and inform strategies for enhancing it.

The Animal Welfare Science Program also uses a number of other innovative tools. For example, by non-invasively measuring hormones in collaboration with the zoo’s Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, welfare scientists can determine how much stress each animal is experiencing internally. And by using motion-activated cameras and remote sensors, they can learn how each animal uses its habitat when humans aren’t around.

Enhance

Once they have gotten some measure of an animal’s welfare, they try to enhance it. Zoo experts use many techniques to enhance animal welfare, including enrichment strategies and habitat modifications. After implementing a new approach, they again evaluate welfare to determine whether the changes were effective. This cycle repeats indefinitely as they continually work to raise the bar and respond to each animal’s changing needs and preferences.