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Proposed Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines – Exhibited Animals Consultation Regulation Impact Statement March 2014

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2.2 Community values and expectations

With respect to Australian community attitudes towards animal welfare generally, empirical research was undertaken by consultants for the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in 2006, to assist in the development of a communications strategy for AAWS. This research showed that community engagement with the issue of animal welfare is very high in Australia.36

From the limited data available, the Australian community considers the welfare of animals in general to be an important issue; and is associated with a willingness to engage in community behaviours such as donating to animal welfare organisations, writing to newspapers etc.37 Data obtained from a sample of 1061 random respondents from Victoria, indicated that 60% agreed with the statement ‘Welfare of animals is a major concern’, 16% disagreed and the remainder neither agreed nor disagreed. 76% agreed with the statement ‘Welfare of native animals is important’, 6% disagreed and the remainder neither agreed nor disagreed.38
Turning now to exhibited animals, zoos, wildlife or fauna parks and aquariums have large numbers of visitors (15.4 million visits per annum in Australia)39 that enable them to make positive contributions to the community and the environment through educating visitors about the care of animals and the preservation of their natural environments. The roles of such zoos and wildlife or fauna parks extend beyond private profit by providing benefits to the wider community.
These benefits of animal exhibits fall into three categories: private use benefits, public use benefits and non-use benefits. The nature of these various benefits is summarised in Table 5 below:
Table 5 - Use and non-use benefits of animal exhibits

Use benefits

Non-use benefits (all public)

Private use benefits

  • Bequest to future generations accomplished by maintenance of a state and cultural heritage asset (bequest benefit);

  • Value from continued existence of rare species and biodiversity through conservation (e.g. captive breeding and wildlife care) and research related activities (existence benefit); and

  • Option to utilise a species at a future circumstance (insurance/option benefit).40

Public use benefits

  • Wildlife research;

  • School and community education;

  • Tourism and its benefits to the wider-economy;

  • Veterinary services and training;

  • Wildlife rehabilitation;

  • Disease surveillance; and

  • Holding facilities for law enforcement.

Private use benefits such as recreation and education accrue to the visitors i.e. people who visit the particular exhibits in which the services are provided. Public use and non-use benefits are provided in the wider and longer-term public interest, independently of the level of visitation to animal exhibits. In other words, the beneficiaries of animal exhibits include the wider general public (including future generations), whether or not individuals visit particular exhibits, or indeed any exhibits at all.41

The information in the remainder of this section of the RIS has been obtained from a 2009 consultants’ report that was commissioned by the former Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (now ZAA) to assist it to determine the economic and social value that wildlife parks, zoos and aquariums contribute to Australia.42
The consultants assessed five main values of such zoos and other animal exhibits. These are:

  • Economic value, measured in terms of contributions to Gross Domestic Product, employment and tourism (production value).

  • Value for consumers, measured via visitor survey results, the revenue and financial support provided to and consumer surplus (recreational value).

  • Value of contribution to conservation, measured by the nature and results of in-situ and ex-situ programs and research.

  • Value of contribution to education, measured by the nature and results of school, tertiary and visitor education programs and their links to raising conservation awareness and motivating behaviour change.

  • Value of contribution to bio-security, measured by the role zoos and other animal exhibits play in protecting Australia’s biodiversity and environment and primary production industries.

The study found that:

  1. In 2005-06, nearly 36 per cent of the population over 15 years of age visited a zoo or other animal exhibit at least once. More Australians visits animal exhibits each year than any other form of cultural entertainment, apart from movies (65 per cent). Animal exhibits had maintained this rate of visitation over the previous ten years.

  2. It is significant that animal exhibits maintain the second highest level of annual visitation compared to other cultural activities, such as libraries, museums and art galleries, even though zoo visits come at a cost and general admission to libraries, museums and art galleries is generally free. This is a strong indicator of the value that consumers attribute to animal exhibits. There were an estimated 15.4 million visits to animal exhibits per annum, which include about 3.3 million visits by international tourists and 12.1 million visits by Australian residents.

  3. Overall the private sector, including visitors, contributes three-quarters of the revenue of zoos (state governments contribute the rest). This is an indication of the minimum level of benefits to consumers. The price of admission is one source of this private revenue.

  4. Consumer surveys indicate that the benefits to consumers are typically greater than their payments for admissions to animal exhibits. Many consumers have consumer surpluses, although the consultants were unable to quantify this surplus.

Zoos provide a range of education programs for school and tertiary students, visitors and the general public. In 2007-08 19 zoos provided formal education to about 613,000 students nationally. In many states zoo education programs are either integrated with or reflect state education curriculum.
Analysis of general surveys conducted by zoos show a particularly high level of consumer satisfaction with zoo education. These surveys suggest that learning about the animals themselves has overtaken the pure novelty or entertainment value of zoos as one of the principal reasons why people visit. Recent independent studies confirm this and demonstrate that 76 per cent of international tourists are interested or very interested in experiencing (mainly iconic) native wildlife and of these more than half preferred to visit either a zoo or wildlife park, rather than take a tour in the wild.
Zoos also play a role in delivering ex situ and in situ conservation for both biological diversity and conserving wild populations of animals in their natural habitats. The significant value that the international community places on conservation is reflected by the commitment of the vast majority of nations in the world to key international treaties regulating the conservation of biological diversity and import and export of endangered species, as well as the widespread membership of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
The significant value that the Australian community places on wildlife conservation is reflected by the Australian Government’s ratification of these international treaties and the range of Commonwealth and State regulation concerning threatened species and habitat protection.
Zoos play an important role in biosecurity because many newly discovered human diseases over the last 30 years have been found to be zoonotic or to occur first in wildlife. Biosecurity management tends to be undertaken by large zoos, universities, NGOs and government agencies working in collaboration because smaller zoos do not have the resources to fund such work. Wildlife disease surveillance is coordinated nationally through the Australian Wildlife Health Network (AWHN), in which many zoos participate.
There is also an ethical argument that ‘The continued existence of zoos and their good purposes such as conservation, science, education and recreation can be ethically justified only if zoos guarantee the welfare of their animals’.43
The above discussion illustrates the nature and extent of the various different values that the Australian community places on zoos and other animal exhibits. When considered alongside the earlier evidence about majority Australian community concerns about animal welfare generally, an inference can be drawn that Australians support the keeping of animals in zoos and other animal exhibits, on the understanding that the welfare of these animals will be adequately safeguarded.
The main way of protecting these community values is to mitigate the risks posed to the welfare of exhibited animals, to the environment and to Australian agriculture from the keeping of exhibited animals. The nature of these risks will now be discussed in the following parts of this RIS.
Thirteen (13) public consultation questions are interspersed in the text of the RIS, in an endeavour to obtain further information and opinions from the Australian community regarding the welfare of exhibited animals. A complete list of these questions is given in Appendix 5 to this RIS.

Public consultation question 1: Do you believe that Australian community values and expectations towards the welfare of exhibited animals justify the introduction of national standards and/or guidelines?

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