What is Animal Welfare?

Animal welfare refers to the physical and psychological well-being of an animal and is measured on a continuum from poor to thriving.

Animal Welfare Research Vision

Brookfield Zoo Chicago's Animal Welfare Research Program will develop innovative tools to evaluate and promote positive animal welfare, integrate research findings into animal care practices, train future leaders, communicate our results to diverse audiences, and foster collaborations with zoological and academic institutions.

How Do We Study Animal Welfare?

There are many indicators of animal welfare that can be utilized to determine where an animal falls on the continuum from poor to thriving. Research would suggest that taking a holistic or multifaceted approach using multiple indicators of animal welfare is best. However, one of the most common indicators used in animal welfare research is animal behavior.

Animal Behavior is the scientific study of how animals interact with each other and the environment. By conducting research, zoo professionals can gain valuable information in order to provide optimal care and enhance the welfare of each individual animal. 




Behavioral Diversity
Research suggests that behavioral diversity may be a potential positive indicator of animal welfare. The team will continue to examine how behavioral diversity varies with other indicators of animal welfare as well as in different animal management conditions.

Environmental Enrichment
Environmental enrichment is the process of providing opportunities for animals to engage in behaviors they are motivated to perform. The team will continue to conduct research to better understand how to optimize environmental enrichment to focus on the continuous improvement in animal welfare and meeting the behavioral needs of each species.

Bottlenose Dolphins
Brookfield Zoo Chicago has a long tradition of conducting research with bottlenose dolphins. We will continue this tradition to help ensure that each individual dolphin within the collection is thriving. The team completed the Cetacean Welfare Study in 2021, the largest-ever, multi-institutional research project of how physical habitat, environmental enrichment, and animal training impact the welfare of cetaceans in zoos and aquariums worldwide.

Ambassador Animals
Ambassador animals are typically exotic species utilized within zoological institutions for up close encounters to connect visitors with wildlife and inspire conservation action. The team will continue to evaluate if these types of programs impact animal welfare.

Field Conservation
The team always looks for ways to benefit field conservation efforts. Examples include testing research methods within a controlled environment at the zoo that can be utilized to study their wild counterparts and conducting research that would be extremely difficult or impossible in the wild depending on the species (see Behavioral Development).

Behavioral Development
Behavioral data collected on developmental milestones following animal births can create critical information to allow for informed decisions during subsequent births. Deviations from normal development can inform staff if intervention may be necessary. Information gained also provides to our basic knowledge of behavioral development as these types of studies would be extremely difficult if not impossible in the wild depending on the species.

Future Leaders
We are creating a national and international training program on animal welfare and evidence-based management as well as providing professional training to develop local, national, and international scientists. We will continue to hold scientific conferences to continue as a leader in the field of animal welfare.

Engaging Visitors and Staff
We believe that everyone can become a conservation leader.  We are working to develop innovative techniques to engage volunteers, staff and visitors in our research and conservation efforts.  By creating these experiences, we hope to demonstrate the relevancy of our research efforts within and beyond Brookfield Zoo Chicago.