Animal Care at Woodland Park Zoo

The following is borrowed from the Woodland Park Zoo newsletter. I thought Sue Connell gave a terrific explanation of how the Zoo always takes into consideration the needs of it’s animal guests.

By Sue Connell, Docent – July 2018

“I attended new volunteer training this year as a refresher in preparation for mentoring. I was enthralled by Curator Martin Ramirez’ presentation on animal care and asked for permission to share it with Ramblings readers. Thank you to Martin for sharing. The following is a summary.

Martin Ramirez started his presentation with an organization chart. Since animal management staff organization was covered in the last issue of Ramblings, I will start with the zoo’s accreditations and certifications.

The zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and a participant in several AZA Species Survival Plans (SSP’s), and licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)* and the American Humane Association (AHA).

Philosophies of animal care vary widely. Some people believe that animals are here to be used by humans. Others believe that animals should be treated humanely. Still, others believe that animals should have the same rights as humans. All of these philosophies overlap to some degree.

At Woodland Park Zoo, we believe in animal welfare. We care
about animals as both individuals and populations of species around
the world. Our care is based upon biological measurements. We believe that animals in human care should be provided with the best possible care.

People who are part of the animal rights movement also care about animals. They differ, however, in that they care about individuals over the rights of the species. Their measure of care is based on beliefs rather than science, and they believe that animals should never be kept inhuman care. AZA’s definition of animal welfare refers to an animal’s collective physical, mental and emotional states over a period of time, and is measured on a continuum from poor to excellent.

Animals are given five opportunities to thrive:

  1. A well-balanced diet: Fresh water and suitable, species-specific diets are provided in a way that ensures full health and vigor, both behaviorally and physically. The diets are nutritionally complete, varied and modified for an animal’s life stage. Our elderly orangutans get steamed vegetables so that they can chew them with their aging teeth.
  2. Physical environment: An appropriate environment including shelter and species-specific substrates that encourage opportunities to self-maintain. In preparation for the rhinos’ arrival a whole new floor was installed in the barn that previously housed elephants. Our lions have heated rocks.
  3. Optimal health: Rapid diagnosis and treatment of injury or disease while providing supportive environments that increase the likelihood of healthy individuals. Animals receive vaccinations, regular exams, weight monitoring, medications and training. When I walked through the Adaptations Building the other day, I saw the chuckwalla lizard getting laser therapy.
  4. Species-specific behavior: Quality spaces and appropriate social groupings will be provided that encourage specific behaviors at natural frequencies and of appropriate diversity while meeting social and developmental needs. The animals on the African Savanna have the ability forage in the trees.
  1. Choice: Providing conditions in which animals can make choices to avoid suffering and distress and to make behavior meaningful. Animals have a complex habitat with choices for comfort, space use and socializing. Our small-clawed otters have different levels, places to swim and run and places to cuddle together while they nap.

Animals come to us with inputs and outputs. Each species has a unique social system, diet, mating strategy and habitat type. Individual animals have individual differences in their rearing, their health status, their life stage, and their experience with zoos and staff. The zoo provides nutrition, feeding protocols, enrichment, training, veterinary care, social groupings, breeding, exhibit complexity, multi-species exhibits and guest viewing areas. These are all inputs.

Outputs are both physical and behavioral. Physical outputs include the animals’ body mass and their body condition (the condition of feathers, scales, skin, fecals and parasite load) and any injuries or illnesses. Behavioral outputs include the animals’ activity, space use, play, demeanor, courtship, species-appropriate behaviors, appropriate stress response, aggression, abnormal repetitive behavior and how they choose to make choices and exert control over their environment.

The zoo takes care of animals from cradle to grave. Policies that are in place to support this care include the Animal Welfare Charter, the acquisition and transfer policy, the Ambassador Animal policy and the euthanasia policy. Protocols include husbandry, nutrition, browse, behavioral husbandry, preventive medicine, birth plans, geriatric and palliative care, quality of life assessment, animal records and emergency preparedness.

ANY employee or volunteer can communicate an animal welfare concern by talking to anyone on the Animal Care Team or to the Volunteer Office. Animal welfare is everyone’s responsibility.

How are animals chosen for the zoos collection?
The criteria include visitor appeal, status in the wild, the availability in zoos and aquariums, priorities of cooperative management programs, the ability to maintain species in a healthy environment, exhibit suitability and sustainability, the need for husbandry and for other research, staff expertise and interest, and the support of our conservation and collection programs.
Woodland Park Zoo is proud to have headstart species recovery programs including those for Western pond turtles, Oregon silverspot butterflies and partula snails. The Partula Snail Lab is between the Family Farm and Bug World, and the pond turtles and silverspot butterflies are behind the scenes.

The zoo does an amazing job of caring for our vast collection of animals. The next time you are at an exhibit, notice, and share with our guests, all of the wonderful care that is happening.

* Woodland Park Zoo is licensed by USDA under the Animal Welfare Act. We must maintain what is called a “Class C Exhibitor Animal Welfare Act License” in order to operate as a zoo. The license must be renewed annually and subjects the zoo to unannounced inspections that could happen at any time.

Once again, a huge thank you to Martin Ramirez for his work in putting together and sharing the presentation upon which this article is based. Many of the words in this article are his, and the illustrations are taken from his talk.”

Photo by MBarrettMiller/Connemara Productions

See our website Let Kids Be Kids. org for more information on our
” Advocacy for those Seeking a Voice.”
To support our Animal Protection advocacy, or to donate towards our endangered species project see these links: Universal Giving  or PayPal Giving Fund


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