“The basis of all animal rights should be the Golden Rule: we should treat them as we would wish them to treat us, were any other species in our dominant position.”
— Christine Stevens
All across Asia, thousands of animals live in captive environments; from large zoos to mini zoos, in marine parks and places which offer animal shows, and many other types of captive facility.
Sadly, for some of these animals, their living conditions and the way they are cared for are well below acceptable standards, and they experience poor welfare. Animals may be found being kept in bleak surroundings, far removed from nature, with little to keep them occupied. Animals will undoubtedly suffer if their needs- physical, behavioural and emotional- are not being met.
Animals at some facilities also continue to be used in circus-style shows, being made to perform unnatural tricks which are probably extremely detrimental to their welfare and, of course, do nothing to teach respect and compassion for animals, and instead turn them into ‘clowns’ to be laughed at. Some animals continue to be exploited in photography sessions, with no choice over their lives- forced to pose with visitors for a snapshot.
Poor welfare and outdated practices such as circus-style shows and photography sessions are by no means limited to the smaller zoos, and can also sometimes be found in some of the larger facilities.
Across the world, some of the more progressive zoos and specialist facilities do keep animals in large, naturalistic enclosures, showing that treating captive animals with compassion and respecting their needs is possible.
In Asia, some zoos are definitely better than others and are heading in the right direction in terms of improving the welfare of the animals in their care. We would like to see these zoos becoming even better and meeting acceptable standards, and setting a good example for other zoos to follow.
Captive animal welfare is undoubtedly a vitally important issue, affecting thousands of animals all day every day, but unfortunately is one that is often overlooked.
We want to see the welfare of captive animals in zoos and marine parks, and any facility that houses wild animals, being given the attention it deserves. We want to see the lives of captive wild animals being improved where needed. We want to see outdated practices, such as the use of animals in circus-style shows or for animal rides and photography sessions, ended once and for all.
When it is clear that conditions in zoos cannot be improved, or a zoo is unwilling to improve, ACRES is agreement with the following statement from the WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare which states:
“WAZA and its members should make all efforts in their power to encourage substandard zoos and aquariums to improve and reach appropriate standards. If it is clear that the funding or the will to improve is not there, WAZA would support the closure of such zoos and aquariums.”
Often, it is obvious from looking at the living conditions of the animals that their welfare is not good. It is clear that their needs are not being met if they don’t have fresh water, soft substrates, private areas, space to move etc.
There are also other signs we can look which that suggest that an animal’s needs are not being met.
Sometimes in zoos we may see animals displaying strange behaviours, such as pacing or swimming the same route over and over again, swaying from side to side, rocking back and forth, biting on bars or repeatedly licking objects. Sometimes animals pull out their fur, or chew on their tails. Some may even play with their own faeces. These behaviours are known as stereotypic behaviours, and are never seen being performed by animals in the wild. They are repetitive behaviours that appear to have no purpose.
Stereotypic behaviours are widely recognised as a clear indication that an animal is living in or has been living in suboptimal conditions. Most stereotypic behaviours occur when animals have failed to cope with or remove themselves from stressful situations.
In the wild, animals tend to spend most of their lives on to move. In captivity, animals may be highly inactive. This is another sign that something is wrong- their enclosure is probably too small and they probably don’t have enough to do. This inactivity may also suggest a scenario of “learned helplessness”, where, in an effort to cope with frustration, boredom and other chronic stressors, animals gradually close themselves off from their environment, rather than interacting with it.
If we see an animal displaying stereotypical behaviours or if they are highly inactive, it is a clear sign that all is not well, and we need to be doing something to improve their welfare, either by improving their living conditions or the way we care for them (husbandry), or usually both.