Ambassador Welfare

Welfare Definition

Animal Welfare refers to an animal’s collective physical, mental, and emotional states over a period of time, and is measured on a continuum from good to poor.

-AZA Welfare Committee

Getting Ready to Assess Welfare

Start by visiting the AZA Welfare Committee‘s page and the Compilation of Welfare Assessment Tool Items.

Staff training is a requirement of AZA Standard 1.5.0

Example Documents & Assessment Tools

ZIMS- now has a welfare assessment module

TRACKS – has welfare tracking capabilities

Other Considerations

Teams/Committees– creation of teams or committees should be made up of a dynamic mix for welfare evaluations. Keepers, manager/curator, vet staff, animal handlers, education staff, etc. are all options for committees. It’s recommended to have both individuals close with/familiar with the animals being assessed and staff that are not from the same animal care teams/departments to decrease subjectivity and increase objectivity.

360 staff- all staff included in welfare assessment– All staff, not just ambassador keepers, animal handlers or educators (volunteers, docents, interns, or staff), should be involved in welfare assessment. This includes keepers from other departments, guest services staff, grounds/horticulture and maintenance staff, HR, marketing, management, etc., should all be familiar with what your institutions’ welfare process is and how they can contribute to evaluations.

Design and Construction Guidelines and contract- some facilities have included clauses in their contracts with construction contractors for welfare.

Regular meetings and annual trainings– your facility should decide how frequently to address, train, or remind all staff of what welfare means to your institution and how to identify good or poor welfare.

  • Training courses- what is welfare, online trainings, etc.
  • Assessment- develop tools and then begin assessing
  • Reporting- how to report on welfare

Action Plans- what is the plan for your welfare assessment program for regular assessment, assessment at different significant life events, and plan for follow-up and reevaluations.

Welfare Challenges with Ambassadors

-lack of choice/control is very impactful to individual welfare

  • Due to hands-on nature with ambassadors, we have much bigger impact on their ability to control their outcomes than exhibit animals
  • All ambassador animals should be evaluated continuously on their willingness to continue participating in what is being asked of them

AZA Accreditation Standards

Below is a review of the AZA Accreditation Standards (1.5. Animal Welfare, Care, and Well-Being) concerning animal welfare in regards to ambassador animals. Consideration of the components of the AZA standards in the scope of your ambassadors is important to incorporate in your welfare process.

AZA Standards state:

It is important for all zoos and aquariums to strategically assess the benefits and risks of animal contact throughout their institutions, and to implement the best, most productive and safe human-animal interactions possible.

1.5.0. The institution must have a process for assessing animal welfare and wellness.

The overall emphasis is a focus on proactive care and welfare for all animals under human care.

The process should also include a mechanism to identify and evaluate the welfare/wellness impacts of significant life events or changes in the animal’s environment as identified by the individual institution. Examples of life events/changes could include construction events, unusual weather events, noise intrusion, change in housing, or changes in animals exhibited with or nearby, etc.


  • Training for staff to evaluate welfare should be included in this standard.
  • What is the model at your institution for reporting welfare concerns to a welfare officer or committee. All staff should be aware of the process for reporting concerns and there should be a formal process in place for follow-up with concerns. Options include anonymous reporting, paper reporting, online reporting, etc.

1.5.1. All animals must be well cared for and presented in a manner reflecting modern zoological practices in exhibit design, balancing animals’ welfare requirements with aesthetic and educational considerations.

Ambassadors should have individualized focus and care that may be different from those of their exhibit counterparts, but special consideration should be taken for thier

1.5.2. All animals must be housed in enclosures which are safe for the animals and meet their physical and psychological needs.

Appropriate housing for ambassadors may look or be fundamentally different than for exhibit counterparts, but this should be on a case-by-case individual basis or facility consideration for how ambassadors are used, how frequently they’re used, and what other options they’re afforded that are different from their exhibit counterparts. i.e. having smaller housing space than an exhibit animal, but having the opportunity to leave their enclosures more often. All animals must be kept in appropriate groupings which meet their social and welfare needs.


  • Close focus should be looked at for typically social species being housed singly. Standard 1.5.4. covers ambassadors and social housing (see below). All animals should be provided the opportunity to choose among a variety of conditions within their environment.

Managing how these animals are choosing to spend time in their space, choice in whether to participate in programs, and other considerations.


  • Lack of choice/control should be considered a high negative welfare score and remedied.
  • To what degree do ambassador animals have the ability to participate in programs, contact, or other opportunities or objectives.
  • How much/how often must animals be coerced to complete typical/daily activities.

1.5.3. If animal demonstrations are part of the institution’s programs, an educational/conservation message must be an integral component.

1.5.4. If ambassador animals are used, a written policy on the use of live animals in programs must be followed and incorporate the elements contained in AZA’s “Recommendations For Developing an Institutional Ambassador Animal Policy” (see pages 88 – 93). An education, conservation, and welfare message must be an integral component of all programs. Animals in education programs must be maintained and cared for by paid and/or unpaid trained staff, and housing conditions must meet standards required for the remainder of the animals in the institution. While outside their primary enclosure, although the conditions may be different, animal safety and welfare need to be assured at all times.

Explanation: As stated in the AZA Ambassador Animal Policy, the management of
ambassador animals requires special consideration. Although the housing conditions for ambassador animals may look different at times to those provided to exhibit animals, institutions must provide similar social, physical, behavioral and nutritional opportunities to ambassador animals. Regular holding enclosures (this does not include short-term holding for programs or transport) for any given ambassador animal species must provide sufficient space for comfort, exercise, shelter, and have sufficient complexity.

Ambassador animals should be housed socially when appropriate for the species. Also, providing ambassador animals with choices and control over their environment (e.g., whether they want to participate in a program on any given day) and incorporating time limitations (including animal rotation and rest periods), where and when appropriate, is essential to ensuring effective care and management. Activities associated with programs may provide some of these needs from time to time.

1.5.5. For animals used in offsite programs and for educational purposes, the institution must have adequate written protocols in place to protect the rest of the animals at the institution from exposure to infectious agents.

Explanation: To protect the health of the animals at the institution, written protocols
required above, and their implementation, must include a veterinary risk assessment and veterinary approval.

1.5.12. Paid and/or unpaid staff assigned to handle animals during demonstrations or educational programs must be trained in accordance with the institution’s written animal handling protocols. Such training must take place before handling may occur.


  • All staff and volunteers handling ambassadors should be trained and empowered to maximize choice/control of ambassadors in programming
  • All staff/volunteers evaluated regularly on their skills at understanding and respecting choices of ambassadors