Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The science on suffering: Introduction (2)

Posted: 17 May 2006

Measuring welfare is difficult, but in the scientific literature a number of possible welfare indicators can be found. For example, physiological indicators of a reduced welfare can be an elevated heart rate or an elevated cortisol level; a behavioural indicator of a reduced welfare can be the occurrence of stereotypical behaviour (Broom & Johnson, 1993).

A stereotypy is a repeated, relatively invariate sequence of movements, which has no obvious function (Broom & Johnson, 1993). Stereotypies provide good indicators of long-term coping problems and have been described in, for example, battery hens and in pigs (Fraser (1975) in Maas (2000)), circus tigers (Nevil & Friend, 2003), horses (Brion (1964) in Maas (2000)) and autistic children and prisoners (Levy (1944) in Maas (2000)), as well as in many other species in farms, zoos, laboratories and other captive situations. It is important to note that in the wild abnormal behaviours like stereotypies do not arise.

Broom & Johnson (1993) state “In natural conditions, animals are constantly stimulated by changes in their physical and social environments. Where animals are brought under closer environmental control, on farms, in zoos, or in people’s homes as pets, the levels of some of the components of stimulation are reduced, while others are increased”. Animals have expectations of the consequences of different types of activity; where these do not materialise, the animals are not able to utilise fully their own array of controlling procedures (Broom & Johnson, 1993). Some animals respond to a lack of stimulation and a lack of control over their environment with apathy, others with stereotypies or an increased aggression (Broom & Johnson, 1993). Both a lack of stimulation and a lack of environmental control are inherent in circus life. Stereotypies are particularly evident in ‘wild’ species but also seen in domestic animals, such as farm animals and horses.

Broom & Johnson (1993) state: “…, in most cases we do not know whether a stereotypy is helping the individual to cope with the conditions, has helped in the past but is no longer doing so, or has never helped and has always been a behavioural pathology. But in all cases the stereotypy indicates that the individual has some difficulty in coping with the conditions, so it is an indicator of poor welfare”.

The second concept is stress. Stress can be defined as “stimulation beyond the capacity for complete adaptation” (Broom & Johnson, 1993), i.e. that the animal’s coping mechanisms are taxed. When these mechanisms break down, the result is distress.

Conclusions on Evidence from literature

The travelling circus is not a suitable environment for an animal, because restrictions of space, time, mobility of equipment and facilities mean that no animal will be able to behave as it would in its natural environment. Many of the species commonly kept in circuses have highly specialised behaviour, making it impossible to cater for them in the circus.

We acknowledge that suffering in both humans and animals is difficult to prove. However if animals are behaving in a way that would give rise to concern were they any other species, then we should assume that such concern is justified until proven otherwise; it should be a reflection of a humane society to allow the potential victims the benefit of the doubt.

The following is a brief review of the scientific evidence forming the basis of our opinion.

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