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Conservation Science

Ungulate Wellbeing

Zoological institutions strive to provide animals with an experience of good wellbeing, and there are many possible indicators of wellbeing that could be measured within the five domains adopted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, including nutrition and feeding, physical health, environment, behavior, and mental state. Whether and how quantitative and qualitative indicators of wellbeing differ between animals of the same ungulate species managed in different ways is not well understood. Achieving good overall wellbeing in a small zoo might look different from achieving good overall wellbeing in a large conservation center.

Wellbeing is measured on a continuum from poor to good within five domains. Figure: Mellor DJ, Hunt S, Gusset M, (eds). (2015) Caring for Wildlife: The World Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare Strategy. Gland: WAZA Executive Office, 87 pp.

This study will conduct an evaluation of potential behavioral, physiological, and nutritional wellbeing indicators as they relate to each other and to the environments in which ex situ Grey’s zebra and scimitar-horned oryx are managed. This evaluation will identify indicators that are relevant to wellbeing and that might differ across management situations, from a small number of animals in a smaller zoo exhibit to a large herd of animals in a private conservation facility. SEZARC members, including White Oak Conservation, Denver Zoo, Disney’s Animals Science and Environment, Jacksonville Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, Zoo Miami, and Micanopy Zoological Preserve are currently participating. We are conducting live behavioral observations and tracking animal position with GPS ear tags. Blood opportunistically collected during annual exams will be analyzed for blood cell counts, blood chemistry, and inflammatory markers. We will also validate assays for oxytocin, cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and explore these hormones as wellbeing indicators. Medical records will be analyzed for the number of health interventions over a 12-month period, as well as mortalities and births. A survey will be provided to staff to assess the degree of human-animal interaction, and nutrient content will be analyzed on food items. The range of behavioral and physiological values collected will provide a context for expectations within each management scenario, enabling managers to make decisions about the relative wellbeing of their animals and take action as needed to promote better wellbeing.