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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 Risks to animal welfare, the environment and agriculture

Exhibiting animals provides potential risks to the animals themselves and to the environment and agriculture. Before discussing these risks in detail, it is appropriate to say something about risk assessment and risk management. Risk assessment has two dimensions – the likelihood of an adverse event occurring; and the severity of the consequences if it does occur, as illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Assessing the Level of Risk

Source: Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission

By way of illustration, while the likelihood of risks to animal welfare, the environment and agriculture from exhibited animals may generally be low, the consequences could be high if, for example, a zoo causes its animals extreme suffering or a pest or disease-carrying animal were to escape from its enclosure.
These potential risks include:

  • risks to welfare of exhibited animals; and

  • risks to the environment and agriculture from escaped animals becoming pests and/or spreading diseases.

The nature of these potential risks will now be discussed in more detail.
Risks to animal welfare
Because exhibited animal welfare outcomes are difficult to measure and quantify, the following problems are expressed more in terms of risks than outcomes.

As discussed in Part 1.2.2 of this RIS, animal welfare means how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. One definition states “An animal is in a good state of welfare if (as indicated by scientific evidence) it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress”.44 There is increasing evidence that animals kept in conditions where their welfare is poor can have weakened immune systems and so be more likely to succumb to diseases.45

There are specific risks to the welfare of captive animals. Non-domestic animals come from a variety of environments, with differing climates, geography, food sources and interactions. They may be solitary animals or part of complex social groups. Non-domestic animals have evolved to survive in a particular environment and are highly adapted to their environment. Because each animal has a different set of needs, some of which can be complex, risks to animal welfare may result.

Reducing and managing animal welfare risks requires keepers with a high level of skill and knowledge and an ability to provide an environment that meets the animals’ needs and limits stress. With some species this can be very costly, especially since some animals live for a long time. For example, koalas have particular health, dietary and welfare requirements as discussed in Part 2.1.1 of this RIS that can impose significant costs over the animal’s life. African wild dogs have social protocols in the formation of groups that must be taken into account in captive environments.

To ensure the welfare of an animal, its biological needs must be met through the provision of the highest husbandry standards and an enclosure design applicable to the species.46

The business practices for facilities exhibiting animals have also changed with increased competitiveness to attract and maintain visitors. This has resulted in the desire to keep a wider range of exotic animals and the introduction of interactive programs (such as walking with exotic animals, feeding animals and being photographed with animals). These changes in zoo practices present increased risks to the animals’ welfare and the environment.47

Every species of exhibited animal has minimum physical and mental requirements in relation to the size of both its display and holding enclosures, the type of enclosure substrate, adequate drainage, suitable enrichment and enclosure furniture; as well as individual dietary and water requirements, health examinations and reproductive management and procedures for capture and restraint without causing undue stress to the animals. Animals also have particular needs in relation to the nature and duration of interactions with humans, as well as accommodation and food requirements during transportation.
As shown in Appendix 1 to this RIS, TAS, NT and ACT have no specific standards relating to the welfare of exhibited animals. SA has standards relating to the welfare of exotic exhibited animals only. The following table summarises significant gaps in the standards of all jurisdictions relating to the welfare of exhibited animals.
Table 5 – Significant gaps in animal welfare standards

Area of risk to animal welfare

Jurisdictions with gaps in standards



  • gates and doors

All except NSW and WA

  • drive through enclosures

All except NSW

  • substrate and drainage

All except NSW, QLD and WA

All except NSW and WA

  • spatial requirements

All except NSW and WA

  • holding enclosures

All except NSW, QLD and WA

Dietary and Water Requirements

  • food

All except NSW and WA

  • water

All except NSW, QLD, VIC and WA

Health and Wellbeing

  • general requirements


  • enrichment

All except WA

  • quarantine

All except VIC

Reproductive Management

All except QLD zoos



Capture and Restraint

All except WA and SA (exotics only)


All except NSW

Interactive Programs

All except WA , VIC (wildlife parks only and SA (exotics only)


All except NSW, QLD, WA and SA (exotics only)

Animal Identification

All except NSW and QLD zoos

Public consultation question 2: Do you have any evidence of poor risk management practices related to the welfare of exhibited animals? If so, what is the extent of this problem?

Public consultation question 3: a. In your experience, to what extent do the existing codes of practice and related regulations create uncertainty for industry? b. Does such uncertainty vary between different states and territories?

Public consultation question 4: Do you think that the potential risks to the welfare of exhibited animals are high enough to justify the introduction of better standards and/or guidelines?

Public consultation question 5: Do you think that there needs to be national consistency in the standards and/or guidelines that relate to the risks to the welfare of exhibited animals?

Risks to the environment and agriculture
Australia has a unique ecology that is already under threat from habitat loss and climate change. The establishment of non-native species in the wild has the potential to cause significant longer-term environmental damage; in addition to immediate risks to life and property from dangerous animals. Only one species, the Five-lined Palm Squirrel Funambulus pennanti is known to have established wild populations in Australia as a result of escape from its zoo enclosure, but did not establish outside the zoo’s boundary fence; and this population was eradicated by the Taronga Zoo in the late 1970s. In 1898, the Western Australian Acclimatisation Committee (which became Perth Zoo), released this same species as part of its mandate to release European animals into the Australian environment – as was common for settlers at the time. This population still persists within a 5 kilometre radius of the Perth Zoo.48 There has been no assessment to indicate any significant environmental damage from either population. In the same year the Acclimatisation Committee also released Senegal Doves Streptopelia senegalensis which is now very common in the Perth suburbs and the larger Western Australian wheat belt towns.49

Zoos continually develop new displays and exhibits to attract visitors and, as a consequence, there has been an increasing number of exhibitors interested in displaying exotic animals. The larger number and variety of captive exotic animals potentially increases the risk of escape and establishment as a pest.50It is therefore essential that facilities exhibiting animals with high pest potential have the ability to contain the animals, and be able to handle them so they do not escape.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has published data on the number of animals that have escaped from zoos and fauna parks in NSW over the last decade. These include 29 exotic animals escaping during 19 different escape events. In comparison over the same period a total of 533 native animals escaped during 47 escape events, of which 477 were birds. This is a total of 745 animals escaping or being stolen over the decade. The reference does not provide information on the percentage of animal recoveries. There have also been cases where non-dangerous animals have escaped from their enclosures but not the perimeter fence of the zoo.51
Though the number of native animals that escaped in NSW is considerably more than that for exotic animals (because there are proportionally many more native animals exhibited), there has been an increasing trend toward the theft of exotic species in recent years, as they have become more widely held by exhibitors. In particular, exotic reptiles, birds and small primates are proving to be increasing targets for thieves. The number of native species escaping is also of great concern though it must be noted that a majority of these were the result of releases of birds as a result of storm damage.52
Escaped animals could potentially carry diseases; leading to an increased risk of such diseases spreading beyond the exhibition facility. The spread of a disease beyond a contained area could have significant environmental and economic impacts. An outbreak of such diseases may lead to quarantining of animal exhibitions and bans on the transfer of animals. Such measures may prevent the entry of visitors, and severely impact tourism and business income.53
According to the National Zoo Biosecurity Manual (NZBM), biosecurity is important for all zoos, regardless of size. Historically, Australia’s larger zoos have been expected to maintain strong biosecurity practices, due to the perceived higher risks associated with importing and holding exotic species. With today’s growing focus on biosecurity management, it is important that zoo biosecurity focuses on all risks, not just those arising from exotic species. All zoos (including smaller zoos and fauna parks holding few or no exotic species) need to be aware of, and address the biosecurity risks relevant to their circumstances.
Biosecurity is concerned with minimising the negative consequences of infectious disease introduction and spread. Infectious disease within the zoo collection impacts on individual health and welfare, and can have long term impacts on reproduction, longevity, behaviours and population and species viability. Subclinical and chronic diseases can exert their effects for years and even decades. Ill health, death and reproductive failure in collection animals leads to greater costs (husbandry, veterinary, acquisition) and reduces the financial viability of the zoo as a business. Infectious disease spread to humans or domestic animals can have serious social, economic and ethical costs. A zoo’s ability to protect itself from a disease outbreak will be greatly improved if it has appropriate biosecurity arrangements.54
As well as secure, well-designed and well-maintained facilities to contain the animals, exhibitors need to have contingency plans in place and trained staff to deal with the pest risk. This can entail high costs for equipment, such as enclosures, perimeter fencing and safety systems, and the development and maintenance of staff skills.
Once again, as shown in Appendix 1 to this RIS, only NSW, QLD, VIC and WA have existing exhibited animals standards relating to the security of exhibits and the prevention of animal escapes. All jurisdictions have gaps in standards relating to this area of risk. Only QLD has standards relating to emergency procedures.

Public consultation question 6: a. Do you have any evidence of poor risk management practices related to the environment or agriculture in connection with exhibited animals? b. If yes, what is the extent of this problem?

Public consultation question 7: Do you think that the potential risks to the environment and agriculture are high enough to justify the introduction of better standards and/or guidelines?

Public consultation question 8: Do you think that there needs to be national consistency in the standards and/or guidelines that relate to the potential impact of exhibited animals on the environment and agriculture?

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