Positive Animal Welfare

Whilst conservation of wildlife is the core purpose of modern zoos and aquariums, animal welfare is our core activity. This year, WAZA is going to release strategic guidance documents for both animal conservation and welfare: the third iteration of the World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy and the first-ever World Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare Strategy. This gives testimony to the equal value and emphasis that WAZA places on wildlife conservation and animal welfare.


Animal welfare is understood to vary on a continuum from very poor to very good. The promotion of positive animal welfare states requires different approaches to minimising negative welfare states. Modern zoos and aquariums should work to minimise the occurrence of negative states in their animals and, concurrently, should make efforts to promote positive states.


The "Five Domains" model [1] presents a useful framework for undertaking systematic and structured assessments of animal welfare in these terms. This model outlines four physical/functional domains of "nutrition", "environment", "physical health" and "behaviour", and the fifth domain, which is the animal's "mental" state. The Five Domains model forms the basis of the World Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare Strategy.


As welfare is a state within an animal and is understood in terms of what the animal experiences subjectively, this model identifies the two main sources of those mental experiences. The first is the feelings and sensations (collectively known as "affects") that motivate animals to undertake behaviours considered to be essential for their survival. These include thirst motivating an animal to drink water, hunger motivating it to eat and pain indicating things to avoid. These and other survival-related factors are typically covered within the domains of "nutrition", "environment" and "physical health".


The fourth domain of "behaviour" captures the second source of subjective experiences, which can be negative or positive, and relates to animals' perception of their external circumstances. Negative examples include: threat eliciting fear, isolation leading to loneliness and low stimulation to boredom; and positive examples include: security engendering confidence and pleasure giving rise to a sense of reward.


Reference to the first four domains enables systematic consideration of a wide range of conditions that may give rise to a range of subjective experiences found within the fifth "mental" domain. The net impact of all of these experiences is assessed as representing the animal's welfare status. Modern zoos and aquariums should provide opportunities for the animals in their care to experience positive welfare states.


In the 2015 edition of the WAZA Magazine, we have compiled various conceptual and practical approaches to how progress towards positive animal welfare can be achieved by zoos and aquariums. This includes articles on taxa that are challenging and controversial to keep in human care, such as elephants, dolphins, polar bears and great apes. Collectively, these articles demonstrate the value of scientific research, often multi-institutional and longitudinal, to provide an evidence base for ensuring that the animals kept in our care experience positive welfare states – in accordance with the Five Domains model. We hope that this edition of the WAZA Magazine will substantially strengthen our community's efforts to make caring about animals in zoos and aquariums continuous with caring for them in the wild.


Please click on the following link to download the WAZA Magazine 16: Towards Positive Animal Welfare (4.9 MB). 



[1] Mellor, D. J. & Beausoleil, N. J. (2015) Animal Welfare 24: 241–253.

  • Cover WAZA Magazine 16
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  • Positive Animal Welfare

    Positive Animal Welfare

    (1) © Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo, (2) © Detroit Zoological Society