Animal Welfare by the Numbers

If you’ve been following our blogs or have visited our website, you’re probably familiar with the six scientists on the animal welfare research team, who work behind the scenes daily on behalf of our collection to gather and analyze data informing methods to maintain excellent animal welfare. In addition to monitoring our own collection, a pillar of the animal welfare department is to collaborate with other accredited zoos and aquariums to work together for continuous improvement. In this post I will detail some of the numbers of what it takes to accomplish all the work that we do.

Over the past few years we have had several multi-institutional studies in progress. For example, a study comparing seasonal recumbency rates in giraffes includes three zoos in addition to Brookfield, with a total of 13 subjects. The chimpanzee WelfareTrak® study includes 41 subjects from 16 accredited zoos in the US. The cetacean welfare study spans seven countries to include 413 subjects from 4 species, representing 44 institutions. Our endocrinology service laboratory has also run samples from 22 animals from 13 different institutions recently. So in addition to promoting positive welfare in the animals in our collection at Brookfield Zoo, we and our 76 collaborators are also hard at work to do so for hundreds more animals!

Determining seasonal recumbency rates for giraffes in zoos in Northern climates is one component of assessing their welfare.

For each of these studies, focal videos are collected for behavioral analysis, and physiological samples are collected for hormonal analysis. Furthermore, the giraffe and cetacean studies both collect data from bio-logging devices. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we have collected, and what we expect to collect, for these three studies:
-300 hours of giraffe video, 2163 hours of chimpanzee video, 1320 hours of cetacean video
-2500 hours of giraffe bio-logging data, 7040 hours of cetacean bio-logging data
-250 giraffe fecal samples, 9796 chimpanzee fecal samples, 3768 cetacean fecal samples, 3140 cetacean blood samples
 Brookfield Zoo’s endocrinology lab received 9796 chimpanzee fecal samples from 16 collaborating zoos.

Because we do not travel to each of these locations to gather the data ourselves, we rely on the staff/volunteers at each partner institution to help; that’s already hundreds of additional people working together to prioritize animal welfare globally.

Thankfully, we also have a wonderful resource on hand, our incredible group of Brookfield Zoo volunteers, docents, King Conservation Scholars, and Project Search externs. Collectively, 29 volunteers, six docents, six scholars, and five externs have dedicated thousands of hours, tirelessly coding the behaviors from video, precisely weighing out fecal samples, and making other logistical preparations for these and other studies. We could not accomplish as much as we do without their help!

 Volunteers and docents play a large role in data collection at Brookfield and beyond.

Even though the welfare team is most often behind the scenes at Brookfield, know that the six of us, and many many others around the world, are incredibly busy orchestrating and organizing all of the supplies, videos, samples, and data that go into these large multi-institutional research projects. Though you may not see this side of the work that welfare scientists do, the evidence of our efforts is apparent in the healthy and happy animals you encounter while visiting the many accredited zoos and aquariums we collaborate with.

Posted: 7/23/2018 11:38:56 AM by Bryan Todd Oakley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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