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How happy is your pet? Zoos SA has an app for that

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An audit system used by Zoos South Australia to gauge the mental and physical health of animals under its care is about to made available so the public can check the wellbeing of their own pets.

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The free, online service uses a system used by Zoos SA earlier this year to audit more than 3500 animals at Adelaide and Monarto zoos.

They were scored against animal welfare criteria including nutrition, environment, health and behaviour.

If the animal scored well across those targets, its mental state was considered healthy.

If the animal scored lower than the threshold assigned by Zoos SA, conservationists would place the animal on a year-long welfare plan.

Zoos SA Life Sciences Support Officer Rachel Robbins said a happy zoo animal was active, social and in good physical condition, while an unhappy one may be tired, inactive, restless or in poor physical shape.

While she wouldn’t reveal to InDaily how the Zoos SA animals scored, the audit process, “has definitely highlighted some areas where we can improve or where we can continue to make things even better for the animals that we have”, she said.

As part of regular procedure, Zoos SA keepers constantly monitored animals in their care, “to see where their animal is at, where they can do better, how is it feeling,” Robbins said.

“It’s actually a really hard one, without looking at an animal’s physical features, to tell its mental health.

“Keepers here are amazing and because they know their animals so well, we look for a change in the colour of consistency of their faeces.”

Lessons learned by keepers can now be applied to domesticated animals, with Zoos SA releasing its web-based app in August as part of Science Week.

“If we’re keeping them as companion animals or in captive environments they should have that gold standard,” said Robbins of pets.

Rachel Robbins oversees the welfare of all the animals at Zoos SA. Photo: supplied

“Being able to provide that positive mental state, by making sure you’ve covered off all those other areas, is important.”

The tool will be available via the Zoos SA website and will include 15 questions to help owners understand their animals’ welfare needs and advice on how to improve their care.

Robbins said the tool is suitable for a range of animal species, such as lizards, horses, fish and dogs, with questions broad enough to cover all their diverse needs.

“It’ll ask questions like ‘does your pet have enough space to fully stretch out their bodies and express their natural behaviours?’,” said Robins.

“So, can a bird fly?

“They need all the same things to have that positive mental state, like space.”

Depending on the results of the score, the quiz will offer information and suggestions for areas of improvement.

Enzi the chimp playing with an icy cake. Photo: Adrian Mann

An example of this is “enrichment”: something that adds value to an animal’s life by encouraging natural behaviours.

“It can be sensory, like putting a different perfume somewhere in the yard so they have to sniff something out,” said Robins.

“You want certain animals to forage or swim or climb, and those natural behaviours are what make them happy and gives them their positive mental state.

“The suggestions are really simple, really effective, and they mentally stimulate your animal.”

Zoos SA will audit all its animals again next year to try to ensure “every single individual” is happy.

The tool will be launched on August 13.

Visit Zoos South Australia for more information. 

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