Animal Welfare: Safe and Sound at Lincoln Park Zoo

February 24, 2022

It’s another cold day in December and Jackson 5’s rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” can be heard across the zoo’s South Lawn. Lincoln Park Zoo is getting ready for another weekend of ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ, a holiday event that includes, among other bright and festive features, a synchronized sound and light show. This afternoon, members of the Animal Care department—including scientists in the Animal Welfare Science Program—along with the Events team, are recording sound levels at multiple locations during the loudest parts of the pre-approved musical set list to measure what the animals will be hearing.

Events at the zoo are meant to support its mission by connecting people to nature and wildlife. But the music from DJs or live performances may add a discordant note to the lives of the animals that reside here. So, staff members spread out to animal habitats near the South Lawn, including the Chilean flamingos, Père David’s deer, and white-cheeked gibbons. Monitoring sound levels both in front of habitats and in behind-the-scenes spaces, the zoo team is working to ensure the sound levels animals are exposed to during the event fall within the zoo’s approved limits for animal comfort.

A Père David’s deer.

Zoo staff members rely on evidence-based ways to improve the welfare of the animals when possible. That means applying science to understand what makes animals comfortable. In the case of sound levels, this can be challenging, as there are no formal guidelines for safe decibel levels for species at zoos. Given this, the zoo has worked to set its own high standards as benchmarks, based on published research and behavioral monitoring of the individuals at the zoo. Some of the behavioral data comes from the ZooMonitor app developed by Lincoln Park Zoo scientists.

How did zoo staff actually measure the sound levels? They used a commercially-available workplace safety app on their smart phones and a lot of radio communication! In certain cases, staff will use the video cameras in place throughout the zoo to monitor the behavior of the animals as well. The team repeat their testing when necessary, such as when events are hosted in different locations around the zoo or when the setup for an event, such as a stage location, changes.

Zoo staff measuring sound levels.

In addition to taking sound measurements and monitoring animal behavior, zoo staff work collaboratively with performers and visiting event staff to mitigate noise at the outset by optimizing speaker placement. Recognizing that each animal will have its own preferences, staff also ensure that the animals all have the option to move away from unwanted sounds. If animals have a quieter safe space—like a behind-the-scenes area—available to them, they can make the choice to spend their time elsewhere, if they prefer.

This attention to detail and close monitoring provide the foundation for the zoo’s evidence-based practices. Whether it’s on a ZooLights evening with the Jackson 5 serenading guests or any other day of the year, animal welfare remains a priority.


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