Animal Welfare

Fauna Australis research in Animal Welfare aims are:

  • To understand the effect of humans in wild animals
  • The importance of humane treatment of wild animals
  • The development of applied research to tackle animal welfare problems
  • Promotion of animal welfare science in wildlife conservation
  • Teaching animal welfare for wildlife management


Definition of animal welfare and implications for wildlife use

There are many definitions of animal welfare and it is beyond the scope of this chapter to present a comprehensive conceptual review. Hence, it will only draw from definitions that seem helpful in relation to the use of wildlife species. Hughes (1976) defines animal welfare as a state of complete physical and mental health in which an animal is in harmony with its environment. Carpenter (1980) proposes a working definition of animal welfare asserting that it is the state of an animal when trying to adapt to an environment imposed or modified by human action. This is a very important concept but one which is not widely accepted. Adaptive capabilities are determined by natural selection and are, therefore, intimately related to the natural changes in the environment in which a species evolved. In turn, the artificial selection that creates domestic animals is partly oriented to positively select attributes that allow them to tolerate an artificial environment. In wild species, human intervention can pose challenges for which the animals may have insufficient adaptive resources; this could lead to suffering, either because the animal cannot cope with a given situation or because its adaptive capabilities are thwarted. Suffering occurs when an animal has a subjective aversive experience that is too acute or too prolonged for it to easily cope with (Dawkins, 1980).

In the United Kingdom, the concept of the Five Freedoms was developed in order to set the minimum standards that must be considered when managing farmed animals (Webster, 1995). The five freedoms are:

1. Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
5. Freedom from fear and distress

These standards involve aspects such as housing, feeding, husbandry, disease prevention and control, management, slaughter, etc. Although the concepts were developed through thinking about domestic animals, the principles have sometimes been used as the starting point to design the management guidelines for laboratory animals, pets, and sport animals; in other words, for all animals that are under the care of humans. We believe that it is a valid approach to also use them to set appropriate standards for wildlife management given the human intervention involved, and providing the particularities of this kind of animal exploitation are considered.

Applying the five freedoms applied to wild animal management, where could issues arise?

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst Welfare could be compromised as a consequence of human action interfering with prey or food density or ecological niche resource availability, preventing access to watering points; or by limiting the access of the animals to those resources to which they are adapted.

2. Freedom from discomfort and pain Discomfort and pain could be caused directly by humans due to the capture system, manipulation or captivity of a wild animal.

3. Freedom from injury and disease Injury and disease could be directly attributable to man as a consequence of hunting practices; due to an animal's exposure to an inadequate infrastructure, or an inappropriate management system; or by exposure, directly or indirectly, to contaminants or pathogens derived from domestic animals or humans. In addition, the close contact with conspecifics caused by confinement could also increase the risk of disease transmission and inter-animal aggression.

4. Freedom to express their normal behaviour Animals should have adequate space and ecological niche resources that allow them to perform normal behaviours such as territorial defence, use of vantage points, sleeping and feeding sites, etc.

5. Freedom from fear and anxiety For a wild animal, this freedom implies that human contact must be kept to a minimum. There should be a protocol to assess any changes in the animal's behavioural and/or physiological expression as an indirect measure of potential suffering due to aversion, fear or anxiety during capture or captivity.

Animal welfare science commonly studies the effect of different management practices or anthropogenic environmental changes on animals and aims to generate solutions to the welfare problems identified by implementing action protocols that are designed to improve the way in which animals are kept and managed, and thus reduce the impact of these systems on the animals concerned.


More information: Dr. Cristian Bonacic & Jessica Gimpel. MV, MSc, DPhil
Email: Jessica,

More information:

McLaren, G; Bonacic, C and A Rowan. (2007). Animal Welfare and Conservation: Measuring Stress in the Wild. In: Key topics in conservation biology. Edited by D Macdonald. Blackwell publishing. Oxford.

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