Zoo scientist’s welfare quest

24 July 2008 General News

Based at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, Dr. Melfi is leading an international team of professionals working on primate welfare in zoos that has organised the five-day workshop. Called "Improving captive primates' welfare through good behavioural husbandry", it runs in the week before the main conference and is almost a conference within a conference.

Delegates were selected from a large list of names submitted by zoos and sanctuaries worldwide. Sixteen vets, animal keepers and zoo and sanctuary directors from countries including the Cameroon, China, Sumatra, India, Romania, Mexico and Brazil are attending free of charge thanks to support from the Margot Marsh Foundation, Edinburgh Zoo, the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, the RSPCA, Chester, Twycross, San Diego and Apenheul Zoos, the Golden Bird Foundation and the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

"We will present an overview of the major advances in the theory and practice of behavioural husbandry in zoos in recent years," said Dr. Melfi. "This includes things like environmental enrichment and positive reinforcement training, both of which stimulate managed animals mentally and physically and improve their welfare. The workshop is a great opportunity to reach professionals who do not normally have access to this sort of information. All the delegates have institutional support, which means they will be able to put ideas into action when they return to their organisation."

Many of the sanctuaries in Asia and Africa care for hundreds of young orang utans, gorillas or other primates orphaned by poaching and the bushmeat trade.

"We will discuss practical limitations, hold troubleshooting sessions, provide advice and give support so delegates can go back and train others. We want to inspire and motivate people to implement better behavioural husbandry back home. The workshop will build social and professional networks between academics, zoos, sanctuary staff, field workers and others dedicated to primates. It is exciting to think that this workshop should make a significant contribution to the improvement of captive primate welfare."

The International Primatological Society 2008 congress, which is being held in Edinburgh and hosted by the Primate Society of Great Britain, is bringing together over 1,000 delegates from 58 countries. The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and Paignton Zoo Environmental Park are sending six staff to the main conference. Among them are Dr. Melfi, who will be presenting her findings from a census of the endangered Sulawesi crested black macaque; Dr Kirsten Pullen, who will give a summary of results from her recently-completed PhD on gorilla behaviour; and Holly Farmer, who will present work from her PhD studying the vocalisations of howler monkeys.

Paignton Zoo

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