On Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness for Wildlife in Confinement

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:
by John Lukas
Director, White Oak Conservation Center, Yulee, Florida

This guest column is adapted from a cage-rattling presentation Mr. Lukas delivered to the recent White Oak conference on zoos and animal protection, hosted by the Howard Gilman Foundation.

Happiness is not a term zoo administrators and others who hold wildlife in confinement like to use. Many of us were trained to think of “happiness” as a human interpretation, linked with anthropomorphizing animals, and therefore problematic when much of what we do is oriented toward trying to get animals to behave in the manner appropriate to their own species. Nonetheless, I use the term “happiness,” because even if we have trouble suitably defining it, I believe we cannot avoid having to think about it as an essential component of animal well-being.

Well-being, by dictionary definition, is the condition of happiness, prosperity, and good health. In considering the well-being of a confined animal, we must consider both biological well-being, which encompasses the territorial, social,
nutritional, and reproductive needs of a species, and cultural well-being, which is how we as humans understand the well-being of animals in the context of our own perceptions of happiness, cleanliness, safety, and how we think animals ought to be treated.

There are five principle venues in which wild animals may be confined to protect and/or perpetuate species. Each venue includes both inherent advantages and disadvantages in our efforts to insure animal well-being, including happiness, and it is important that their functions and capabilities not be confused. A zoo, for instance, cannot become a conservation center and continue to function as a zoo. Neither should a conservation center be allowed to evolve into a zoo without making a studied choice of taking that direction. Each venue for holding wildlife has a different job to
do, and the better we understand the distinctions, the better adapted our responses will be to the problems of keeping wild animals.

In situ refers to keeping animals in their native habitat under a degree of protection that can only be insured within territorial restraints. Usually this is done within a national park or wildlife reserve. An Intensive Protection Zone is a section of native habitat, usually within government land, within which a threatened species is concentrated when it needs more protection from humans than can be provided in situ. The IPZ is defined by fences, guard posts, natural barriers, and the presence of a large, well-trained unit of wildlife guards. The IPZ connects to a larger wildlife reserve into which the animals can be moved after the threats to their survival have been controlled or eliminated.

A conservation center is an institution outside the native range of particular animals that maintains these species in semi-natural conditions, with the emphasis on scientific management to aid their survival. The overriding premise is that the needs of the animals come first. Usually, conservation centers are not open to the public. Any animal observation is strictly controlled. Nature centers exhibit native species in naturalistic surroundings to educate visitors about indigenous plants and animals. Nature centers concentrate upon topics related to ecology and human interactions with wildlife on a local level.

Zoos exhibit animals in artificial environments meant to depict each animal in a semblance of natural habitat, for both
educational and recreational objectives. Progressive zoos dedicate resources to off-exhibit breeding and research, and make each exhibit as natural and representative of the habitat of the species kept as is possible.

Biological and cultural well-being

Each species has specific biological needs that must be fulfilled for it to survive and reproduce. For most species these
needs are known and documented. How well they are satisfied determines the level of well-being for the species in confinement. Animals in situ enjoy the maximum degree of natural biological well-being. The natural biological envrionment declines as we bring the animals into increasing degrees of confinement. As the natural sources of biological well-being are lost, we provide substitutes to maintain biological well-being at lesser levels. For instance, we substitute hay for natural grass, prepared meat diets for carcasses, culverts for dens, and concrete pools for lakes.


Our success depends upon how well we understand the biological needs of each species and upon how adept we are at responding to these needs within the constraints imposed by the levels of confinement. Cultural well-being is defined for most people by the question, “Is the animal happy?” Because most conservation efforts are financed either directly or indirectly by the general public, the White Oak Conservation Center being one of the few major exceptions, it is in our paramount interest to be able to answer that question–convincingly–in the affirmative. If we hold animals in conditions where they appear to be unhappy, we will not hold public support for long, no matter how well the biological needs of the animals are met.
People seem to sense that an animal is happy when he or she has adequate space to live in; lives in a normal social grouping; is in habitat resembling the natural home of the species; eats food resembling the species’ natural diet; is in a clean environment; the environment is safe and secure; and the animal does not look or act bored.

An analysis of cultural well-being takes the biological needs of the animals, injects into them human ideas about happiness, and examines how well the composite of animal needs and human perception is reflected in the animal’s environment and behavior. This leads us to several troublesome contradictions. For example, most people believe an animal can never have too much space: people equate space with freedom. But when people come to view wildlife, they expect to be able to see the animals. In a national park or wildlife reserve, this contradiction is resolved by conditioning the animals to accept the presence of tourist vehicles or boats. This can be done because the animals are protected by law from human harm, and therefore they soon become used to the presence of another essentially neutral entity. Some animals even use tourist vehicles for their advantage, as evidenced by the cheetahs in the Masaii Mara, who use vehicles as elevated observation points from which to look for suitable prey. Thus, even in the most natural of confinement situations, where we attempt to minimize the effects of human intrusion, animal behavior is
influenced by our activity. Our objective is to seek the best balance for the species being conserved, including the sometimes restrictive consideration that someone has to pay for the conservation effort.

In an IPZ, and to a lesser extent in conservation centers such as White Oak, suitable space is given to each species, but with little emphasis on visibility and more emphasis on protection, since the goal is to increase and maintain a fragmented population at all costs. Poaching, disruption of behavior, and harassing the animals is strictly forbidden; at IPZ facilities for black rhinos in Zimbabwe, suspected poachers are shot on sight. Because IPZs and conservation centers are costly, with little means of directly raising revenue, they are not a realistic or even desirable placement for most wildlife despite the advantages they seem to offer to the most fragile or vulnerable species.

Zoos by contrast must provide high visibility. They exist to exhibit animals. Within this context, the space allocated to each species should nonetheless be the maximum available. This requires innovative and costly exhibits: a good zoo cannot be created (or recreated from a substandard existing facility) on the cheap, without a strong ongoing commitment to maintaining quality care. Most important, running a good zoo requires carefully selecting the species to be exhibited, making sure their allotted space is both biologically adequate and culturally perceived to be adequate. If
this cannot be done for a particular species, that species should not be kept.

At zoos, the more that appears natural in the animals’ lives, the more people will perceive that the animals are happy and prosperous. Selecting only species that can be afforded properly constructed exhibits, allowing a natural lifestyle, will go far in presenting a positive image to visitors. In addition to space, we must consider boredom. If an animal looks bored or sad or displays stereotypic behavior, the public will respond adversely. Such behavior is an unnatural response to an artificial environment. Improvement in space, habitat quality, food sources, social opportunities, and health care usually will eliminate the negative behavior. If not, most likely this individual or species should not be kept at the zoo level of confinement. Such animals or species should be kept in relatively close confinement only at conservation centers, in semi-natural habitat. In certain cases, even a conservation center may not be sufficient to insure well-being, and the animal should only be kept in situ, despite the accompanying risks. These cases, where
extinction is possible, pose perhaps the most painful moral dilemma facing the species conservation community.

Safety, security, and cleanliness are uniquely human considerations. Animals do not worry about their safety, other than in situations of immediate danger. Rather, they go about their lives concerned with living. Many mammals and birds clean and groom themselves, and some species keep their dens clean, but most are unconcerned with keeping or finding a clean home range. People worry about dirt because people understand the relationship between filth
and disease. People like cleanliness, and an animal in a clean environment makes us happy, so most people feel the animal also must be happy about it–although in fact the animal may have carefully marked his or her habitat and may be quite stressed at the removal of the markings.

Consideration for safety, security, and cleanliness reverse the order of which levels of confinement provide the best situation for animals as people see them. In situ areas provide little security or cleanliness. Natural factors such as predation, disease, starvation, and intra-species aggression, along with human poaching, hunting, and harassment, take a heavy toll. IPZs and conservation centers provide protection from some types of harm, but zoos offer the best overall security and the cleanest environment. Most causes of in situ mortality can be eliminated through the intensive care that good zoos provide. Thus zoo animals on average live much longer than wild animals.

This is both a blessing and a curse. Long-lived animals breed more offspring, if able to breed. They also must be
expensively kept well past their reproductive years and even past the years of their exhibit value. Here again, the perception of happiness depends more on quality of life than on quantity of years. Zoos must provide quality environments and care for all of their animals for their entire lives, if they are to be seen as providing well-being. Aged animals, like aged people, deserve special care. Planning for each animal’s retirement must begin while the animal is
If people see that a confined animal lives in natural surroundings, in natural social groups, eating natural-looking food
in a large area but remaining visible, and if the area is clean and safe, and if the animal does not appear bored or sad, then the animal must be happy. If wild animals are treated at all as we treat domestic livestock, people perceive cruelty.


One way to provide well-being as conditions of confinement become more artificial is to develop appropriate standards for confined living. Such standards should be developed not only by curators, zoologists, and ethologists, but also with input from philosophers and humane advocates. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, through Species Survival Plans, provides expertise in genetic and demographic management of captive populations. Overlooked is what each species needs to experience happiness.

In SSP master planning, a husbandry manual is formulated which describes certain basic standards to maintain a species in artificial environments. I have attended several SSP planning sessions, and feel it is detrimental to develop so-called minimum standards. The idea of “minimum” as “standard” is a contradiction if we define a standard as a “level of excellence generally regarded as right.” In basing standards on the status quo, which includes some deplorable facilities for certain species, the zoo community leaves itself open for justly deserved criticism. Husbandry manuals fall short because they describe what is done now, not what should be done. The standards for management of a species in captivity should stand by themselves, should be emulated, and should be goals to reach for. Let us call them optimum standards of confinement, or OSC. An OSC, if set by a multi-disciplinary commitee, should satisfy both the biological needs of a species and our cultural perception of how animals should be treated.

The decision to keep animals should be linked to a percentage of compliance with the OSC, as set by the committee. For instance, if the committee finds that 75% compliance with the OSC for species “A” is enough to insure the well-being of the species in a zoo setting, then zoos realizing that level of compliance could exhibit animals of species “A,” while continuing to strive toward complete realization of the OSC for that species. If a zoo could only achieve 60% compliance, it could not keep species “A.” Implementing OSC standards will be difficult and costly. But if we are to raise the level of care of the animals we confine purportedly for their own good, we must dedicate new resources and
new energy to developing and realizing optimum standards for confinement. Raising the standards of care of course becomes steadily more costly as the level of confinement increases. Here is where hard decisions lie ahead, for if we cannot provide the standard at a certain level of confinement, the animal should only be maintained in situations of less confinement. Until a standard can be met at each particular level of confinement, efforts should be concentrated on maintaining the species at those levels where the standards of well-being are already being met.

Coming from a conservation center background, I see thatconservation centers have more resources available with which to satisfy biological well-being for certain species than zoos. But for other species, conservation centers have significantly fewer resources than in situ programs. Every time the White Oak Conservation Center considers helping a new species, we go through our own OSC checklist to see if we really can provide for that species well-being. Believe me, sometimes the answer is no. We may have to let certain species fight for their survival in situ because
we cannot realistically satisfy their OSC at the zoo or conservation center level of confinement –although we can provide support to in situ conservation efforts. Other species may only be helped by conservation centers, which provide the best chance to prepare species for reintroduction into in situ situations.

Everyone working with confined wildlife needs to consider the well-being of individual animals while we consider the well-being of species. It is easy to justify less than desirable programs in the name of saving animals from extinction. However, as the human consciousness explores more respectful relationships with other species, the conservation community needs to be leading the way in developing a new covenant with wildlife, based upon dignity and well-being, and including attention to that elusive but important ideal of happiness.

(John Lukas, director of the White Oak Conservation Center since 1982, is also vice president of the International Rhino Foundation. He formerly served in various capacities with the Boston Zoological Society, the Okanagan Game Farm, and the New York Zoological Society, gaining direct experience at all levels of wildlife confinement.)

What “humane trap” standards share with military intelligence

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1994:

The International Standards
Organization technical panel appointed to
define the “humane” trapping standards that
must be met by nations exporting furs into the
European Community met in Ottawa in mid-
February to ratify proposals that World
Society for the Protection of Animals cam-
paigns director Wim de Kok fears “will possi-
bly circumvent the hardfought regulation that
prohibits the use of the leghold trap in the EC
and the import of fur from countries that do
not have such a ban. Under the new General
Agreement on Trade and Tariffs,” de Kok
continued, “the ISO is the regulating body on
standardization. Many countries may be
forced to accept low animal welfare standards
or to allow the import of fur from countries
that do not ban leghold traps. Under the ISO
standards, traps which drown their victims
would be considered humane,” although no
major veterinary organization or humane
group considers drowning a humane method
of either euthanizing or slaughtering animals.

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Jogger’s death starts puma panic

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

COOL, California––Trail runner Barbara
Schoener, 40, a Placerville mother of two, on April 23
became the first human to be killed by a puma in
California since 1909, when Morgan Hill school teacher
Isola Kennedy, 38, and pupil Earl Wilson, 8, were
mauled by a rabid mountain lion. They survived their
wounds, but died of the rabies some weeks later.
Schoener, running alone in the Auburn State
Recreation Area, apparently unwittingly approached the
puma’s den. Wildlife officials killed the puma on May 1,
after several days of tracking, discovered she was a lac-
tating female, and rescued a male cub on May 4, who
will be donated to a zoo or wildlife park.

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Animal control & rescue

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

Effective June 28, use of
live animals as prizes in drawings,
lotteries, contests, sweepstakes,
and carnival games is illegal in
Pennsylvania. The law exempts fish,
as well as domestic animals given
away in connection with state-spon-
sored or sanctioned agricultural and
vocational programs. The Pennsyl-
vania Legislative Animal Network
and state representative Jerry Nailer
had pursued the new law since 1989.
Michigan adopted a
felony cruelty law in late April.
The new law eliminates the old
requirement that an animal be owned
for abuse to be punished, which left
homeless animals unprotected, and
weighs offenses in terms of mali-
ciousness rather than in terms of
property damage. The maximum
penalty is now four years in jail and
a $5,000 fine per offense.

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Killing wildlife for fun & profit

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

Austrian scientist Dr. Martin
Balluch, now at Cambridge University,
reportedly may be deported from Britain
because he opposes fox hunting. Letters of
protest may be sent to the Right Honorable
Michael Howard, Home Secretary, Home
Office, 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, London
SW1H 9AT, United Kingdom.
The winter of 1993-1994 was
among the harshest on record, forcing deer
to yard up sooner and stay yarded longer––but
early field reports indicate that few deer
starved despite hunters’ claims of deer over-
population. Wild turkeys were hard-hit, how-
eve––and may decline, warns National Wild
Turkey Federation representative Tom Baptie
of Castleton, Vermont, because undigested
grain from cow manure is a staple of their
winter diet, but anti-pollution laws now
restrict where and when manure can be spread.

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BOOKS: The Best Cat Ever

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

The Best Cat Ever, by Cleveland Amory. Little Brown & Co.,
(1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020), 260 pages, $19.95 hardcover.
The Best Cat Ever, the third and final
volume of Cleveland Amory’s trilogy which also
includes The Cat Who Came for Christmas and The
Cat and the Curmudgeon, eulogizes Polar Bear and
the warm relationship Amory enjoyed with him for
15 years. Since an aging, arthritic cat, however
personable, cannot supply enough material alone
for an entertaining book of this length, Amory
includes a lot of gossipy humor about his school
days and Harvard years, recalled as he takes Polar
Bear to his major reunions. He recounts for us also
his career as a TV critic, his attempts to endure the
Duchess of Windsor as an employer for the biogra-
phy she wished him to write, and similar tidbits.

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From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

Aida Fleming, founder of the
Kindness Club, died on January 25 at age 97.
A longtime animal rescuer, inspired by the
example of Albert Schweitzer, Fleming began
the Kindness Club in 1959 with an essay contest
for school children. The pledge children take to
join has for many become a lifelong creed: “I
promise to be kind to animals, as well as peo-
ple, and to speak and act in defense of all help-
less living creatures.” Eulogized Paul Watson
of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, “My
brothers, sisters, and I were greatly influenced
by the Kindness Club. I attribute what I do,
and the fact that my brothers and sisters are also
anti-hunting, anti-fur coats, and very pro-ani-
mals, to the fact that we were all members of
the Kindness Club.” [The Kindness Club oper-
ates from 65 Brunswick Street, Frederickton,
New Brunswick, Canada E3B 1G5.]

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BOOKS: Keeping and Breeding Cockatiels, and Popular Parakeets: Australasian and Asian Species in Aviculture

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

Keeping and Breeding Cockatiels, and Popular Parakeets: Australasian and
Asian Species in Aviculture, both by Dulcie and Freddie Cooke. Sterling Publishing
Co. (387 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10016-8810), 1987, updated 1993, and 1989,
updated 1993, respectively. 159 and 149 pages, $14.95 each, paperback.
A newcomer to birdcare would not be
well-guided by these books, which are oriented
toward aviculture in England. Their contents are
essentially identical. Each addresses basic avian
health, nutrition, and reproduction. Each contains
a chapter on avian disease by veterinarian Alan
Jones. Each omits much important information.
The need for companionship, integral to a bird’s
well-being, is overlooked almost entirely, as are
the avian needs for routine, consistency, and
security. Avian behavior is not addressed at all.

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BOOKS: Cockatoos in Aviculture

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1994:

Cockatoos in Aviculture, by Rosemary Low. Sterling Publishing
Co. (387 Park Ave. South, New York, NY 10016-8810), 1993, 270 pages.
$24.95, paperback.
Rosemary Low is a highly respected aviculturist, who is also involved in
parrot conservation with the World Parrot Trust. In this informative volume she
emphasizes the intelligent nature of cockatoos and the importance of treating them
with respect. She writes, “The best aviculturists are those who try to put them-
selves in the place of their birds and consider what they would like if they had to
change places.”

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