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Japanese Bear Parks

-Animal Behavioural and Welfare Implications


Dr. Barbara Maas.
ALIVE News December 2001

This presentation provides an introduction to the field of animal welfare science. In the first part of the paper a set of criteria that can be used to assess the welfare of animals under different circumstances is developed. Subsequently the example of bears held in Japanese bear parks illustrates the application of these indicators to assess the welfare of animals under captive conditions.

The past two decades have seen the emergence of a robust new scientific discipline - animal welfare science. The application of this exciting new area of enquiry is as broad as the research from which it draws its scientific basis. They include veterinary, farm and laboratory animal science, zoo biology, ecology, ethology and stress biology. This presentation discusses the biological relevance of animal welfare by examining its conceptual and physiological background. Particular emphasis is placed on exploring the close interrelation between environmental factors on the one hand and animal welfare, health and stress on the other. Scientific evidence for the perception of pain and fear in animals is considered briefly in this context.

Using information on the wide-ranging physiological and behavioural effects of challenging environmental stimuli, a set of measurable animal welfare indicators is developed. As a second tool the 'Five Freedoms', which provide a widely accepted means of assessing animal welfare are introduced and discussed.

The final part of the presentation is dedicated to the assessment of bears held in Japanese bear parks using both behavioural welfare indicators and the Five Freedoms. In doing so it will be shown that enclosure design, social grouping, husbandry and veterinary care in all 10 facilities are inadequate and grossly breach internationally recognised bear husbandry standards designed to maintain physically and mentally healthy individuals.