Developing Welfare Indicators for Less-understood Species
Lincoln Park Zoo is home to about 200 different species. For some animals, zoo scientists use established methods to determine whether or not each animal is experiencing great welfare. For others, there is less science to rely on.
In order to advance expert care and welfare for these less-understood species, zoo scientists in the Animal Welfare Science Program are working to identify new “welfare indicators”—signals that indicate that an animal is thriving.
Reptiles and amphibians have been the focus of less than 5 percent of welfare-related research in zoos and aquariums in the last decade. At Lincoln Park Zoo, scientists are starting to fill this gap with a focus on developing welfare indicators for a common amphibian species: the American toad. Zoo scientists plan to apply their insights with this species to continue developing welfare indicators for other amphibian species.
To identify welfare indicators—in other words, solving “What does a happy toad look like?”—zoo scientists give toads the choice between different habitats and then measure their behavior using ZooMonitor and 24/7 video recordings. They also gently swab their skin to non-invasively measure their hormones, which allows scientists at the zoo’s Davee Center for Epidemiology to have some insight into their stress levels. Ultimately, zoo scientists can compare behavior and hormone levels across the different habitats and identify welfare indicators that are unique to a “happy toad” living in his or her preferred habitat. They can then rely on these welfare indicators to evaluate and enhance toad welfare in different contexts.