EAZA and animal welfare

My name is Mari Heikkilä. I work as a curator at the Ranua Zoo, that is, I’m responsible for the animal collection. I oversee our animals and their welfare. EAZA is the only Pan-European association of zoos. It’s quite natural for Ranua Zoo to be a member. In addition, we are part of a Finnish unofficial association of zoos and aquaria. We could also be a member of a global association of zoos and aquaria. However, due to our small size we wouldn’t benefit more than what we benefit from our EAZA-membership. The membership at EAZA requires the payment of fees and membership is granted through an application procedures which includes an screening mission on site. A screening team consisting of three-persons comes to check the zoo. In the past, membership was granted without the inspection but nowadays they do accreditation, that is, they re-inspect old members too. If a zoo doesn’t meet the membership criteria, it can become a temporary member until the criteria is met. Because the membership costs quite a bit, there are small zoos that, in principle, fulfill the criteria but that cannot pay the membership fee. EAZA requires that its members follow ethical guidelines. The ethical guidelines include general standards, but also species-specific instructions. The standards focus mainly on the fulfillment of the physiological needs of animals, that is, how should their shelter look like, how are they fed and taken care of etc. But, nowadays the psychological well-being of animals is becoming more and more important. Psychological well-being can be promoted through stimulation, training and by supporting natural animal behavior. Measuring the psychological well-being is very difficult as one cannot necessarily see it from the outside as bad fur, bad nutrition or breeding problems. One has to read the behavior of the animal and act accordingly. In Finland, the keeping and care of animals in zoos is regulated by the Finnish Animal Welfare Act. The standards of EAZA are partly stricter and more precise than the Finnish Animal Welfare Act. On the other hand, when it comes to enclosure sizes, the national regulations are more precise. EAZA cannot regulate how much space an animal should have and as different countries have different practices and laws animals can not have the same kind of spaces and enclosures in every member country. That could be seen as one weakness of EAZA. EAZA as an organization is not well-known among the Finns but it gives a certain kind of guarantee to our authorities that the EAZA zoos take good care of the animals and thus, it is easier to get permissions for exports and imports of animals as they are moved to other places. But people, who are interested in animal welfare, they find out more about EAZA and so they can see that this zoo works according to the principles of EAZA. Zoos participate in different forms of EAZA campaigns and in different ways, some do more and some do less. But it is up to the customers to look for this information. Maybe one thing that other certifications could learn from EAZA is that first one has to raise awareness about the certification or organization and then one can use it in marketing as people know the certification and they know the meaning of it. Measuring and assessing animal welfare, especially psychological well-being, is very difficult. As a result, the criteria should be unambiguous and accurate. It’s not enough to say that there must be sufficient food or sufficient space. One needs to define what is meant by sufficient food and what kind of food should it be.

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