What Do Animals Need?

I’ve just started reading Temple Grandin’s lastest book, Animals Make Us Human. I’ve read other books by Temple Grandin, and enjoy her writing style and insight. In the first chapter, she talks about what an animal needs for a good life. This is an incredibly complex question, which has enormous implications for how we manage and care for any animal, from a pet dog, to a rabbit being used for research, to a lion in a zoo.

Grandin gives 5 freedoms an animal should have for a good mental life.

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

Most people would nod along and agree with most of the items on list. The complexity arises when we begin to define what consitutes discomfort, pain, normal behavior, fear or distress. Also, if we can’t create a normal environment where normal behaviors can be exhibited, how can we at least create a stimulating and enriching environment for the animal?

People have traditionally made decisions regarding animal welfare and care based on what they think the animal would like. However, this sometimes is a far cry from what the animal actually wants!

Many zoogoers feel sorry for an animal all alone in an exhibit. However, some species live by themselves in the wild and feel much more comfortable and secure when they are by themselves. Some might even get stressed if too many others of their species are around! I’ve been doing some volunteer work on a project on okapi. Okapi are solitary, forest-dwelling mammals. They prefer to keep to themselves and would rather not have other okapi around.

I’ve also been reading Ken Ramirez’s book on Animal Training. He talks briefly about the Beluga whales at the Shedd aquarium. When given a choice between several exhibits, the whales actually prefer to stay in the smaller, shallower tank because it more closely mimics their natural habitat. Patrons might feel sorry for the whales in the small tank, when the dolphins have a much larger tank to play in. However, that’s where the whales feel more comfortable.

How do we stable our horses? Many horses are kept 24/7 in twelve foot by twelve foot box stalls. Perhaps they have a window to the outside or have other horses on either side, perhaps not. This completely contradicts how horses live in the wild–in small social bands that travel long distances during the day in search of food and water. No wonder stable horses develop so many vices and behavioral problems!

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  • In natural conditions (referring to exotic/wild animals) the only luxury they get is the ability to exhibit normal behavior.

    People tend to believe they know what an animal would like or need but it really has more to do with the visitor than reality in a lot of cases–and for the facility managing the collection–whether exotic or domestic.

    Although there have been good inroads into captive management of wild and endangered species. An exhibit that works for humans does not always work for the animal.

    This would be a very long comment or post to get into indepth–plus the domestic management of many animals is horrible but people are more into the daily cost of eggs, meat, or milk versus the unseen care of the food source animals.

    Case in point, a neighbor commented on my paying $3.50 per dozen for eggs from my neighbor when, in reality, a dozen of eggs from a humanely farmed situation in my area costs $4.50 or more from the grocery store.

    I'd rather support the happy hens and help him with feed and know I am also getting a good product that supports their lives and is healthier for me.

    She, on the other hand, will buy commercially produced eggs at $.99 a dozen. I've been by the commercial farms–they stink and are packed full of chickens.

    Anyway, human suppositions are usually wrong about animals due to ignorance or anthropomorphisms.

    If change is to happen than it needs to focus on helping domestic animals in a commercial environment and has to reach those people who also think there is nothing wrong with popular methods of training such as the infamous dog training show on Nat Geo.

    Until those attitudes are changed–it is gonna be tough and although Temple Gradin has implemented a lot of change, people tend to take a list like the one you list and think it is realistic when if you really go back to basics and the real world–you have to question in what universe?

    Also, when it comes to horses, it again goes back to the human model of what can make the most money in the space available, ease of management, and has little to do with what is good for the horse.

    Again, I think the horse community is just now beginning to explore options that the dog training world discovered in the mid-1990s.

    For the rest of us, we just shake are heads and are glad that at least people are interested enough now.

    • Thanks for this comment! It is full of good things to think about.

      I think there is a huge disconnect between what we see as acceptable for zoo animals and how many domestic animals are treated. Maybe because the zoo lion and tigers are in plain site, and most people have no idea the conditions many food production animals are kept in?

      But even pets. Many horses are stalled 23 hours a day and many people crate their dogs for 8 or 10 hours a day. If a zebra or tiger was kept in those conditions at a zoo, I think there would be public outcry.

      You also make a good point about us being bad judges of what is best for our animals.

      I know from talking with a keeper one day that the Shedd aquarium has done a bit of testing with their Beluga whales as to which tank they prefer. The whales seem to be more comfortable in a smaller tank, rather than in the huge tank that is usually used for the dolphins.

      Mary

  • Thanks for this comment! It is full of good things to think about.

    I think there is a huge disconnect between what we see as acceptable for zoo animals and how many domestic animals are treated. Maybe because the zoo lion and tigers are in plain site, and most people have no idea the conditions many food production animals are kept in?

    But even pets. Many horses are stalled 23 hours a day and many people crate their dogs for 8 or 10 hours a day. If a zebra or tiger was kept in those conditions at a zoo, I think there would be public outcry.

    You also make a good point about us being bad judges of what is best for our animals.

    I know from talking with a keeper one day that the Shedd aquarium has done a bit of testing with their Beluga whales as to which tank they prefer. The whales seem to be more comfortable in a smaller tank, rather than in the huge tank that is usually used for the dolphins.

    Mary

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