The welfare of marine mammals in captivity. David Blyde Background Firstly I should provide a detailed work history in order to justify my discourse on this subject. I began working in zoos in 1986 at Taronga Zoo. I was first employed as a veterinary intern. I remained at Taronga Zoo until early 1989 when I secured a job as veterinarian at Western Plains Zoo (WPZ), Dubbo, New South Wales. I worked as a veterinarian at WPZ for 13 years. During this time I attended many national and international veterinary conferences. I taught both the zookeeping certificate course at TAFE and the post-graduate Captive Animal Management course at Charles Sturt University. I left WPZ in 2001 and began working at Sea World, Gold Coast as the veterinarian. I have visited zoos in Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and Australasia. I have undertaken many animal welfare investigations for the RSPCA on zoos and game farms. I am a member of the Australasian College of Veterinary Scientists in Zoo Animal Medicine and am an examiner for this same body for Zoo Animal Medicine and Medicine of Australasian Species. Introduction The welfare of animals in captivity has been a contentious issue for as long as zoos have been in existence. The relevance of zoos to modern society has been debated in many forums but the fact that approximately 600 million people visit zoos and aquaria annually (The World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy 2005) seems to support their continued existence and relevance in our modern society. The culture of Australian society is not as supportive of zoos as the American or European culture but nevertheless zoos are still a popular entertainment venue for Australians. It should be remembered that all zoological institutions are businesses and as such have financial constraints when animal exhibits and management are concerned. There will therefore always have to be compromises made when discussing the welfare of animals in the captive environment. Many different species of animals are held in zoos and aquaria. Some adapt to captive situations quite well whilst others do not. Some species are easy to keep physically healthy but difficult to keep psychologically healthy e.g. Polar Bears. Some species are just not suited for the captive environment e.g. European Hares. Some species survive well but if not kept in appropriate conditions develop health problems e.g. Asiatic Elephants. We should be mindful however of how we interpret the welfare of animals in zoos and aquaria. We need to be careful that we do not anthropomorphize about their situation. Anthropomorphism is defined by the Macquarie Dictionary as “the ascribing of human form or attributes to beings or things not human”. For instance some species e.g. Polar Bears are solitary animals and may be better off being exhibited singularly rather than in pairs or groups. However, the first thing the public will criticize is the fact that the “poor bear is lonely and needs company”, which may be far from the facts. The ability to determine whether or not an animal is “happy” in captivity can be very objective and often not based on fact. Assessment of animal welfare for domestic animals has been investigated. In 1965, when the British government first reviewed the welfare of farm animals they proposed that all farm animals should have the freedom to “stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs”. These minimal standards became known as “the five freedoms”. These standards have been modified over the years and the five freedoms now read: 1. Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor. 2. Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area. 3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. 4. Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animals own kind. 5. Freedom from fear and distress – by ensuring conditions that avoid mental suffering. There are a number of fundamental issues which need to be considered when evaluating the appropriate welfare of animals in captivity and these are similar to those for domestic livestock. These issues include diet, social structure, appropriate veterinary care, exhibit size and the ability of the animals to exhibit normal behaviours. In essence, zoos and aquaria need to provide the appropriate environment for the animal’s behavioural and physiological needs. In addition to these fundamental issues when we are dealing with marine mammals in captivity, we need to consider water quality issues. Because marine mammals spend a great deal of time in the water, appropriate water quality is critical for their health and welfare. The objective assessment of animal welfare for captive animals is a contentious issue as different people have different ideas about how animals should be cared for and whether they are “happy” or not. It is made more difficult by not having any objective criteria to assess it against. Diet Appropriate diet is vital to the welfare of captive animals. This includes the necessary caloric requirements for the animals, any special nutritional needs and the appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals in the diet. The ration should be palatable and presented in the correct fashion. In addition, the behavioural and environmental enrichment component that the diet provides to the animal should be considered. For instance carcase feeds provide more behavioural enrichment to carnivores than piece-meal food. Social structure The social structure of animals in captivity is vitally important for their ongoing welfare. In order to satisfy this social structure the normal biology of the species in question must be known. For instance Polar Bears are generally solitary animals except when males and females come together at breeding time and when a mother is rearing her cubs. On the other hand cetaceans are generally gregarious and live in small pods of females and their offspring. Males tend to form bachelor groups or pairs. Seals live in colonies but large mature breeding males stake out their own territories and do not interact with other males except to compete for territories and breeding mates. Appropriate veterinary care All animals in captivity should have access to professional veterinary care should they become sick or injured. Veterinarians should be appropriately trained to immobilize and treat these animals appropriately. Appropriate equipment and facilities should be available to diagnose and treat disease conditions. Pain and suffering should be minimized. In addition, a preventative medical program should be developed and implemented to prevent disease from occurring in captive animals. This preventative medical program should consider such things as vaccinating for common specific diseases, drenching animals for internal parasites on regular basis and reproductive control. Exhibit size and facilities The exhibit should be large enough for the animals to exhibit natural behaviours. It should also contain appropriate furniture for the species. For example Orang utans should have the ability to climb, brachiate and nest in elevated areas. Seals should have the ability to swim, dive and porpoise. Exhibits should provide shelter from the elements. Shade is vitally important when exhibiting seals to prevent solar damage to their eyes. Exhibits should also provide a safe barrier between the public and the animals. They should be designed in such a way that they can be easily cleaned. They should contain a restraint facility that assists animal managers in restraining the animals in a safe and effective manner. Animal exhibit sizes and facilities are prescribed in various regulations such as the Exhibited Animal Protection Act (EAPA) guidelines in New South Wales and the Code of Practice for the exhibition of exotic animals in Queensland Zoos, Parks and Aquaria developed by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water. The peak zoological body in Australia – Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA) - is currently developing standards for self-accreditation of zoos and aquaria. Behaviour Many animals in zoos develop inappropriate behaviours which are generally termed stereotypic behaviours. These stereotypic behaviours develop because the animals are not able to undertake day to day activities that they would normally undertake in the wild. They do not have to hunt for food or avoid predators. They become “bored” and develop stereotypic behavious. Other stereotypic behaviours develop because the animal is stressed by an exhibit mate or exhibited in less than optimal environments. Animals in captivity therefore require environmental or bevahioural enrichment. This enrichment can take the form of hiding food items, carcase feeds for carnivores, multi-species exhibits to increase interactions or training. An enrichment program should be developed and implemented. Water quality Appropriate water quality is essential for the welfare of marine mammals in captivity. Inadequate water quality can lead to eye problems, skin problems, infections and death. Ideally, animals that live in the marine environment should be kept or have access to filtered, disinfected natural sea water. Artificial salt water is adequate if the constituents in the water are checked regularly. Water quality includes the following parameters – pH, salinity, temperature, alkalinity, phosphate levels and bacterial levels. Table 1 lists the parameters and the ranges that these parameters should fall within. Parameter pH Salinity Alkalinity Phosphates Bromamines/chloramines Temperature Bacterial counts Accepted Range 7.8 – 8.5 1.028 – 1.037 < 100 ppm < 3.5 mg/L < 1.5 mg/L 15°C - 30°C < 5 CFU’s per 100 ml Objective measurement of animal welfare in marine mammals in captivity The measurement of welfare for animals in captivity is a difficult and contentious issue. Some of the factors that need to be considered when evaluating animal welfare include health records, longevity and the presence of a well considered veterinary preventative medical program. Other factors that should be considered include behavioural issues, husbandry procedures, exhibit size and the presence of a well considered environmental enrichment program. In addition animal diets, social structures and reproductive control should be evaluated. Discussion The welfare of marine mammals in captivity is not radically different from the welfare of terrestrial mammals in captivity. The one outstanding difference is the importance of water quality. Marine mammals spend a great deal of their time in the water and therefore water quality is extremely important in satisfying a high level of animal welfare. Animal welfare issues in zoos and aquaria are always somewhat compromised by the financial limitations of the institutions. Animal welfare in zoos and aquaria can and should be measured objectively using the parameters mentioned previously e.g. animal longevity, animal health records and the presence of a preventative medical and enrichment program. Other measurements should include compliance to exhibit regulations, a breeding program and adherence to “best practice” animal husbandry. Records should be kept, evaluated regularly and changes made according to these records. An objective measure of animal welfare for captive animals in zoos and aquaria would make the assessment of animal welfare much easier. References The World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy: Building a future for wildlife (2005). Ed PJS Olney, WAZA Executive Office, Berne, Switzerland.