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.
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease
- Freedom to express normal behavior
- 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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