Every August, London Zoo weighs and measures every one of its 19,000 animals. It’s a great PR move for the zoo, guaranteeing lots of friendly coverage of photogenic animals on scales or next to tape measures, at a time when many politicians and journalists have clocked off for the summer.
But, as a wildlife conservation researcher and a former zookeeper, I have seen exactly how these sorts of annual “weigh-ins” also helped the animals themselves. Recording the weights and size of animals in a zoo directly benefits their welfare, and could potentially help in the global conservation of their wild counterparts.
Monitoring the health of the animals in your charge is a large part of what being a keeper is all about. You do this by getting to know the individuals and noting any changes in their behaviour each day as you would your own pet. You even assess their droppings, looking at colour and solidity – which made for interesting conversation on morning coffee breaks.
Although these observations are useful, they can be a bit subjective. By taking measurements such as weight you immediately have something a bit more concrete that can be used to evaluate well-being and review the effectiveness of husbandry methods. Also, giving the correct dosage of food supplements or medicines often requires you to know the weight of an animal.
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