Measuring Animal Welfare

Animals & Gardens

November 18, 2021

Science is always in action here at Lincoln Park Zoo! The zoo uses science to evaluate and enhance the welfare of the animals in its care.

ZooMonitor, a mobile app developed by Lincoln Park Zoo to record and analyze animal behavior, is one way the zoo uses science to provide the best care possible and to continuously enhance animal welfare. ZooMonitor allows app users to easily record what animals are doing and where they spend time in their habitat. Animal Care staff can then use this invaluable information to gain data-driven insights from built-in graphs and reports. To date, ZooMonitor has been used in over 20 scientific publications relating to animal behavior and welfare.

ZooMonitor data provides an unprecedented level of understanding of the animals at the zoo and helps address questions related to their care. Over several years, the zoo’s animal welfare scientists monitored the previous lion prides’ behavior, habitat use, and preferences via ZooMonitor. This data was then used to design and create the new state-of-the-art Pepper Family Wildlife Center. Essentially, the previous pride of lions helped create the new habitat, which includes thermal comfort zones, trees for climbing, elevated rocks to provide high vantage points, areas to seek privacy, shade, and shelter, and special enrichment features!

Currently, there are approximately 700 active ZooMonitor accounts being used by Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) members, European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) members, and accredited sanctuaries. Active users represent 52 countries around the world, demonstrating ZooMonitor’s reach and impact on the zoo and aquarium community, as well as on animal welfare. Science is in action all over the globe!

The map above depicts where ZooMonitor users are based.

This year, there have been numerous important updates to the app. Earlier in the spring, animal welfare scientists added a new feature for group sampling on the app—allowing observers to quickly record the behavior for large groups where individually observing each animal isn’t practical. Think birds and fish. In addition, a new support site was released, allowing users to read articles and guides, watch YouTube videos, and partake in live demos and chats.

Last but not least, scientists are working on the biggest expansion of ZooMonitor yet, which includes multi-institutional sharing. Multi-institutional research is important for learning about broad behavior patterns. This three-year project is set for a 2023 release.

Many thanks to the zoo’s volunteers who regularly record observations via ZooMonitor, helping enhance animal welfare at the zoo.

From informing design elements of Pepper Family Wildlife Center to adding shade structures to the Sichuan takin habitats in the Camel and Zebra Area, ZooMonitor is creating change and enhancing animal welfare across zoo grounds.