Animal-based indicators to assess welfare in zoo animals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 CAB International. Animal welfare is a priority for modern zoos and science-based welfare indicators are needed. Welfare indicators can be divided into environment-based and animal-based indicators. Environment-based indicators are usually easier to measure, but only animal-based indicators provide direct information on the welfare of animals and are therefore preferred. Animal-based indicators include abnormal behaviours; changes in the frequency, duration or intensity of normal behaviours; disease prevalence or incidence; life span; body condition, physiological parameters; telomere length; and keeper ratings. Some of the abnormal behaviours most commonly used to assess welfare are stereotypies, apathy, regurgitation-reingestion and feather-damaging behaviour. Changes in sleep, feed intake, rumination, displacement behaviours, anticipatory behaviour, play, affiliative behaviour, aggression and maternal behaviour can also be used to assess welfare in zoo animals. There is no single indicator that can provide all the information needed to assess the welfare of an animal or group of animals. Further, all potential welfare indicators have shortcomings and methodological limitations. Therefore, several indicators have to be used to assess zoo animal welfare and they should be checked for validity, reliability and feasibility. Also, both positive and negative indicators of welfare should be used. One area deserving further research is the development of welfare assessment protocols that combine the best indicators for a given species or taxonomic group. Some of the protocols developed for farm animals could be applied to zoo animals. Most research on welfare assessment of zoo animals refers to mammals and birds and identification of welfare indicators for reptiles, fish and amphibians is another research priority.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA14
JournalCAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Animal welfare
  • Behaviour
  • Stress
  • Zoo


Dive into the research topics of 'Animal-based indicators to assess welfare in zoo animals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this