Animal sentience workshop

Nick de Graaff

Promoting positive animal welfare: The Zoo and Aquarium Association Accreditation Program (16:47)

Nick has worked in the zoo industry for over 20 years fulfilling roles in animal husbandry, collection management, exhibit planning and legislative compliance. Since 2013 Nick has performed in the role of accreditation manager for the Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia. Nick facilitates the development and implementation the Association's Accreditation Program which is primarily focussed on assessment and promotion of ‘positive' welfare. Nick holds a Bachelor of Science (Biology) and is an associate of the Massey University Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre.

[This video was filmed during a workshop in front of an audience. The speaker stands at a speaker’s podium and talks into a microphone. Sometimes, he looks or points to a screen with slides containing information to support his talk. The slides aren't shown in the video.] Nicolas de Graaf: Okay good afternoon everyone. Thanks for inviting me to come from Australia to give a short talk to you guys about our accreditation programme. So today we heard a lot about the theory and the philosophy behind sentience and what that means to animal welfare, and I guess the reason why I was asked to come is to see how we can share what we've learnt by actually trying to apply this knowledge in the assessment process. To actually recognise and validate the concept of positive welfare in our animals. So the framework for incorporation of positive welfare state into the welfare assessment is what we do, that's the accreditation program primarily is really about assessing for positive welfare in the animals in our member organisations. We do build upon the five domains model in this sense. Now back in 2013 we talked when the board made the decision that this is the direction our accreditation program is going to take. We all sat there initially going well, how we're going to make this work? Positive welfare - how do we assess that? How do we, we've got such a variety of animals there's going to be differences between species - how does this work? And what we found though is the 5 domains model actually, at the time we had a belief that it was going to be very helpful, and it turns out it was. So our program really builds upon the five domains model and that means we also take into account that we recognise that animals can have negative and positive affective states. So just a quick background, in 2013 when we started our program, we do three-year accreditation cycles. Last year we finished the first of those three year cycles. It says accreditation round two, we're actually counting round one as the original accreditation program which is more your traditional approach to accreditation in zoos. But in this accreditation round two, the focus was on positive animal welfare. So a few quick stats here - 87 out of 92 members were assessed in this program of which 744 separate assessments were done on exhibits which covered about 241 different species. So we can look at this three-year program almost like a giant pilot study. We didn't know what to expect, we didn't know what we're gonna learn through this process, but we've actually learned a lot by going through all this. And so what I hope to do today is actually share some of these key learnings that we had, and pass it on, because ideally promoting positive welfare in every industry would be a great thing. Actually just to go back on that one, I should mention that our ZAA members that covers both Australia and New Zealand. We have members in both countries. Recently we've also got Papua New Guinea that's joined our region and we also, when we talk about the number of species that we've assessed we've arranged from the high order animals, the great apes, right down to invertebrates. We actually trialled it on invertebrates because we wanted to know how would how would it work out. So here's some key learnings that we got from this whole process. We struggled with trying to identify these things over time, we're building it together, we're still working on it and we're strengthening our program. But one of the biggest key learnings we got out initially, was that we needed different criteria to assess for positive welfare. Now for example here we go, which is probably a criteria that we're probably more familiar with, is the animal getting too hot or too cold? We apply that in a lot of assessments for welfare. What we're really looking at though if we unpack that is, are we just minimising that negative experience? The animal's too hot to cold, how can we remove that negative experience? So to assess positive welfare we need to come up with new criteria. New criteria that recognises the positive experience. So by comparison we should be asking questions like, is the animal experiencing thermal related pleasures? You know basking in the sun, the warmth that's involved in that, or the animal seeking a nice cool area because it's slightly overheated and that feeling of lying on that, initial feeling of going on a cool surface, those are the experiences we're kind of looking for. Now this is, not only do have to develop that criteria, we also found it's very important to develop awareness and understanding as to why the different criteria applies. Because what we're finding is if we're asking the second question, for example, quite often we get the response that addressed the first question. And that was because we're still trying to familiar, familiarise ourselves with the concept of positive experiences, mental experiences in animals. So the second key learning we have here was assessing for good care, good housing, does not mean positive experiences are automatically occurring. Now what I mean there is, when we apply a prescribed set of procedures and husbandry to an animal. Yes it's good care, but is the animal actually getting a positive experience from it? A good example would be health checks - it's in the interests of the animal, it's good for the animal overall but the experience of being captured and restrained - not so positive for the animal. We can justify that by saying doesn't happen often, the animal learns to cope with it, it gets over it, yes it does. But when we start putting it in the context of; let's say we want to make sure the animal is ultra healthy every day and it goes through that experience every day. We'd be questioning its welfare. So time scale has a role to play in this, but it all comes back to what we're actually talking about is, how we provide good care to our animal. What we really need to be focusing on is what the animal is experiencing. So in the same sort of way, it's a bit like leading the horse to water analogy - good care provides the opportunities for the animals to have positive experiences, we provide the right things for the animal, so that it can engage with it. But the real question is, is the animal actually effectively engaging with these opportunities? And so to do that we need to develop an assessment tool that can establish if these positive experiences are occurring. Which is what the five domains model sets out to achieve and our assessment tool that we're developing from all these things that we've learnt is building upon that as well. Now you might notice when we talk about good care as well we might be thinking about a subtle redefinition of good care. Maybe good care is no longer about providing the stuff that has been predefined by external bodies of experts, maybe good care should be defined by how well we respond and support the individual animal's experience. And so it's not about what we do repeatedly, or we do the same that everybody else does, it's really about what's the animal telling us and what can we do to support what the animals telling us? Another key learning now is recognising animals have different affective states - it means the same criteria can be as consistently applied between different species, individuals from the same species, and animals in different situations. Animals in zoos, laboratories, farms, as pets, possibly even in the wild. So I'll run through an example to sort of help explain this point. If we look at, we could talk about a gorilla and a lizard, we're assessing their welfare. Now this is the five domains model as published by Ngaio Beausoleil and David Mellor in a 2015 paper I believe, yes, and it lists out the conditions that an animal might have in the physical functional domains, the four of them up there, and the relative mental experiences that it might have underneath. Now in this one case we're going to be looking at the opportunity to eat a variety of foods, because we want to understand, does the animal experience pleasures of different tastes and textures by eating this food? Now we look at a gorilla, and gorillas are quite obvious, they actually do what we call pleasure grumbles. We provide the gorillas with a wide variety of foods that we can all appreciate, because we eat similar foods, different vegetables, different fruits, different types of browse, and gorillas will actually quite obviously show us what they prefer. They hoard everything, they squabble over a couple of preferred items, and they pleasure grumble when they get something really juicy like a mango they really go *gorilla grumble* and it's a pleasure to watch, you know and so it's quite obvious. So if we were assessing a gorilla and we can say, does a gorilla have the experience of having pleasurable taste in its diet - there's the evidence. Yes it does. Now we could apply the same criteria to a lizard. Dose the lizard have the opportunity to have a pleasurable experience tasting its food? The answer is yes, we actually discovered this. We assessed one of our zoos and we actually ask this question. So as you can see we're asking the same question, we're applying the same criteria, to different species but we're still getting similar results. So what we found in this case the story behind this, this is a sleeper lizard or a shingleback. We talked about diet variety and they were saying, yeah well these guys eat, you know, invertebrates and vegetables, and we give it lizard mix and blah blah blah. And I said well that's all well and good, that's good care, thank you for telling me that - where's the positive experience in this? And they said you know what, now that we think about it, it loves strawberries. And at the time we didn't realise, even the staff didn't realise, until we had that discussion. So they sent me this photo afterwards to show, because they could say we can guarantee every time a strawberry goes in that enclosure that's what it goes for immediately. So of course we need to make sure we don't over feed at the strawberries and provide any sort of compounding nutritional health effects from it, however, what we've identified is that even lizards can have a positive experience, as its demonstrated there. Now of course we don't truly know, we need to have research and data to back that up, but, however, the critical argument behind this is telling us for all intents and purposes, the animal's engaging with this because it probably likes to. So if we move that through that five domains and we keep assessing the welfare of the animals, it might get a bit murkier. So let's move into behaviour and let the opportunity to engage in maternal rearing of young. So the bonding that goes on, the pleasures and the feelings of reward that the parents might go through, through the experience of raising offspring. Again, for a gorilla; quite obvious. We can say in a healthy stable group of gorillas you got your silverback male overlooking his harem with females. Every female has one or two or three offspring at different ages and they're all involved. And you can see them hug each other, they nurse, they play, they engage, and you can see that. And based on that evidence we're going, yeah, that's another positive experience. And along with all the other positive experiences we're identifying through this process, its welfare is looking pretty good, we haven't found any negative ones either. So when we look at the lizard, we ask the question, any lizard, doesn't have to be a particular species, do they have that experience? We don't know. And so that leads us to another key learning, and that is we must acknowledge that there is gaps in our knowledge of species. We need to create a framework that allows, as we learn this stuff, we need to create a framework that can sort of build in, and what we're actually doing is expanding our knowledge pool as we go through it. Until then, those questions can't be answered. It doesn't mean we have to decide whether it's negative or positive to the animal. It's actually going to be okay to say, we don't have this knowledge. But that's not enough, we shouldn't just ignore it. What we also need to be doing is talking about, well if we don't know, maybe we need to find out? Where's the research [bell]? So the other part to this would be, sorry the bell threw me off but thank you, the situation I'll move on, I can't remember what it was. So the final point - when is positive welfare good enough? This question has been asked a number of times already in the couple of talks today, and we experience the same problem with our assessments. Individual animals have different lives, which means they have different opportunities, which means they have different positive experiences. An animal in a social herd, for example, maybe not a herd, any social hierarchy of any animal - the alpha and beta males and females, may get the opportunity to breed and rear young and the positive experiences that are associated with that. However the subordinates don't - meerkats are an example, hunting dogs are another one. Does that mean the welfare of the Alpha is more positive than the welfare of the subordinates? Do we have an obligation then to force every animal to breed to meet a positive benchmark? So, my answer to that would be no we don't. What we have to recognise is that in that social situation those animals, as individuals, have their own positive experiences they don't have to be the same. They all play a part and they all play a role. So as a benchmark for positive welfare at this stage, rather than trying to define exactly what experiences every animal must have, what we need to do is identify that as long as the animals negative experiences are continuously minimised, and as long as positive experiences are continuously promoted, continuously enhanced, you can't set and forget because their needs change over time. You need to be on top of it, you need to be watching it, you need to be, the moment you see that opportunity, throw in what you can for that experience to be promoted. Then perhaps that's good enough, for now, because we don't know where the benchmarks and the scores or however we want to see it down the road of how it falls out. All we need to say is, if it's positive, it's positive. And what we do encourage though is we can see there's gaps, where we find, you know what in that particular criteria not well, well we've at least minimised negative experience, but you know what, we can actually promote a positive by doing something more. So that's when we should be saying why don't you do it? Because if we're promoting that then, with time, the individual animals welfare is only getting better and better. The final point I want to say is in this whole thing you probably notice that I'm talking to the person who takes care of the animal, the animal that takes care of the animal, and what we need to do is recognise that they're the experts and the reason why is because they're the ones who know the individual animals and their lived experience, and they can respond and interpret what they're seeing appropriately. Of course they need to include species knowledge, I would be concerned if people were just making up ideas of what they understand of the species, they need to back it up with evidence. However, we do need to look at the zoo, the carer, or the the people who do the husbandry, as the ones who can inform us when we do these welfare assessments and they have to back it up with evidence, such as that photo of the lizard and the strawberry. And this is a great quote. This summarises all these key learnings. This is one of our zoo members that came up with this quite early on and I loved it so much I quote her every time I do these talks. She thought about it after we did a review on the day and she said you know what I've just realised she said, the benchmark is how your animal responds to what you do, not what other zoos do. And I was like, that's brilliant, because that is exactly right. It means the animal can just tell us or inform us what it's experiencing and if we read that appropriately we can adjust what we do and make it according. So every zoo in the accreditation program, any organisation really not just in zoos and aquariums, can actually benchmark themselves against their own animals to promote positive welfare. Anyway that's all I'll say for now so thank you very much. [Video ends]

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Last reviewed: 22 Nov 2021