Thursday, 7 April 2016

Management of geriatric animals in zoos

This week has seen several articles in the press on the topic of geriatric animal management in zoos, an issue which our own Heather Bacon has presented on at a number of international conferences.

Improved zoo animal husbandry and healthcare is playing a key role in increasing the longevity of some species housed in zoos. Attention towards zoo animals is often focussed on charismatic species, but as veterinarians we have a duty to provide excellent standards of health care and welfare to a large variety of taxa including invertebrate, amphibian and reptile species, and this poses unique professional and ethical challenges. In general there is a contrast between human medicine where there is considerable effort to prolong life even at a temporary welfare cost, and veterinary work where the priority of any intervention is about its immediate welfare impact, both on the individual animal’s welfare state, and the potential welfare impacts on other members of the group in social species. Many age-related changes in zoo animals have parallels in our domestic pets and even in the human population. These chronic and progressive disease syndromes will often be managed by medical treatments, specific husbandry changes and close monitoring, to ensure that the individual animal’s quality of life remains good.

Ensuring good animal welfare is an essential foundation of the modern zoo, and a primary responsibility of all veterinary surgeons in the UK. The Five welfare provisions for zoo animals are set down in the Secretary of State’s standards of modern zoo practice. Zoos need healthy, stable and reproductively fit populations with adequate genetic diversity and experiencing good animal welfare, to make a meaningful and sustainable contribution to conservation of species in their care, and also to ensure a positive visitor experience. Additionally veterinary surgeons have a professional and ethical obligation to “make animal welfare their overriding consideration at all times”. It is important that the zoo community and veterinary profession continue to work towards meeting the unique challenges created by geriatric zoo animal management.

Heather examines a geriatric bear at a zoo in Europe

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