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On Comparing the Behaviour of Zoo Housed Animals with Wild Conspecifics as a Welfare Indicator

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It is commonly assumed that animals suffer if they cannot perform behaviours seen in wild conspecifics. Although comparisons with the behaviour of wild conspecifics are a popular method of assessing the welfare of captive animals, their validity has not been fully assessed. Homeostatic models of motivation suggest that many behaviours are stimulus driven rather than internally generated. Thus, it is possible that the non-performance of some wild-type behaviours does not necessarily compromise animal welfare, unless welfare is defined as being compromised by such non-performance. The flexibility of wild animal behaviour and the fact that animals free to peiform the complete range of wild behaviours can suffer, must also put into the question the validity of such comparisons. Technical criticisms also arise when one considers the difficulty of constructing accurate and unbiased time budgets for wild animals. It is possible that the expressions of wild-type behaviours correlate with enhanced welfare, rather than cause enhanced welfare. Thus, if the consequences of behaviour are more important than the expression of behaviour itself, environmental enrichment does not necessarily need to rely upon the performance of wild-type behaviours for the improvement of animal welfare. Therefore, although behavioural comparisons with wild animals can be considered as potentially useful indicators of behavioural differences, they cannot always be relied upon to give an objective assessment of animal welfare. To make an assessment of welfare, behavioural comparisons with wild animals should be used in conjunction with other techniques to demonstrate that the consequences of non-performance of wild behaviours results in impoverished welfare.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1996-02-01

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