A global concern
The UK charity Wild Welfare estimates there are more than 10,000 zoos, aquariums and wildlife centres internationally, many of which lack appropriate animal welfare regulations.
Animal keepers at these facilities, particularly in low-income countries, may have limited or no animal management background and few training or development opportunities. Veterinary expertise and care can also be limited – in environments with the potential to contribute significantly to diverse global conservation efforts.
A partnership between the University and Wild Welfare is now taking steps to address this problem, making Edinburgh’s animal welfare expertise available to zoo staff worldwide through a programme of free online education resources.
Animal care tools
Wild about Welfare is a new package of interactive educational resources designed to give animal care staff the tools they need to provide optimum welfare to animals in captivity, across the globe. It offers a simple yet comprehensive introduction to animal husbandry practices for wildlife caregivers, delivered in bite-sized, accessible online modules.
Dr Louise Connelly is a senior e-learning developer in the University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies who leads the development of online masters programmes but also became closely involved in the vet school’s Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education and played a key role bringing the Wild about Welfare programme to life.
“This was a new partnership with Wild Welfare in terms of us developing something specific for them,” comments Louise.
“Based on their own knowledge and experience, working with different partners around the world, Wild Welfare pulled together and curated the key topics that they felt would be appropriate, useful and necessary to focus on. I was brought in as the educational expert to work on their resources and develop them into interactive packages.”
Dr Heather Bacon OBE, the former Veterinary Welfare Education and Outreach Manager at the Marchig Centre, was instrumental in contributing the scientific knowledge, research background and practical understanding on which the resources are based. Partnership working was a style that worked well.
“We’ve split the programme into eight modules that target different topics and created a little package around each,” Louise explains. “These target zookeepers and animal welfare keepers, primarily in developing countries, to allow them to feel confident with what they are doing and potentially upskill or reskill but fundamentally just feel confident in their understanding of animal welfare and how they apply that in their own context.
“Working with Wild Welfare, with Heather providing expertise in terms of her own knowledge and experience working in the field and my experience in digital education – this was a really nice combination, all working together to develop the programme.”
The modules include subjects such as animal welfare and healthcare, enrichment, behaviour, and feeding and nutrition. They achieve engagement by combining initial reading with interactive tools that include videos, images and quizzes to support the training, plus onward links for further study. Each package includes a number of quizzes offering instant feedback, allowing the user to self-test their understanding of the topic as they work through it.
Modules are practical and flexible. They’re designed so that animal carers can immediately apply the things they are learning in their own workplace. Depending on participants’ individual needs, they can be taken one at a time or as a complete course, offering a comprehensive animal welfare and behaviour overview. Teams can even work through the modules together as part of their own internal training processes or for continuing professional development. The course offers a useful foundation for anyone interested in learning more about animal science, welfare or conservation.
For Louise, an important aspect is how accessible the programme is intended to be. “When we’re designing educational packages such as this, we think about the context and the audience,” she explains.
“With context, we think about any bandwidth issues and about the actual device that people are going to be using to study, because that changes our approach and how we actually design something. We want it to be stimulating and easily accessible for everyone.
“In terms of audience, we think about the cohort. We take into account that English possibly isn’t their first language or that certain scientific terms or concepts may not be easily translatable or may be unknown to them. It is pitched for that audience to understand, rather than targeting an academic community.
“We wanted to make a package that was very accessible and very useable with as few barriers as possible. Wild Welfare put the programme out to pilot with some of their international partners to really make sure that we had hit that nail on the head in terms of both the target audience and their technical limitations.”
The Wild About Welfare course is provided completely free of charge. Since its launch earlier this year, the training has already been viewed and downloaded more than 3,000 times by users in several African countries, Costa Rica, Italy, Singapore and the UK – underlining its global appeal.
The charity is now in the process of translating the programme content into other languages to ensure it can be used as widely as possible. Work is underway on a Japanese language version of the training and further translations are in the pipeline with the aim of introducing it in Vietnam and Indonesia.
Sarah Blake, Animal Welfare Field Manager for Wild Welfare, welcomes the impact the programme is already having: “Creating the digital education programme in partnership with the University and the Marchig Centre has been an incredible experience and what we have collectively created is something that I am proud of every day.
“The impact that the programme has had so far is both global in reach and significant in terms of animal welfare. The changes it can help create among animal care staff and those training to join the industry will encourage positive husbandry changes and improved care. Alongside this is the opportunity to empower people with accessible knowledge and skills, ensuring sustainable and long-term improvements to humane education and animal care.”
The Marchig Centre
The University’s Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education was founded in 2011 and sits within the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. The centre is committed to improving the health and welfare of animals through education, training, and research and by promoting the important role of vets in protecting animal welfare. As such, it is a hub of expertise on animal welfare education and collaborates with international partners to advance the understanding of animal welfare issues.
The centre’s commitment to open access education has seen it develop a number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) including Animal Behaviour and Welfare and The Truth About Cats and Dogs. It also offers online Farm Animal Welfare and Veterinary Nursing Skills resources and feeds into the vet school’s postgraduate degrees on Clinical Animal Behaviour, International Animal Welfare Ethics & Law, and others.
Image credits: Photography courtesy of Wild Welfare