Maher, C. J., Gibson, A., Dixon, L. M. et al. 2021. Developing a reliable welfare assessment tool for captive hibernatory bear species. Animals 11(11), 3090.

Animal welfare assessments are essential for the identification of welfare hazards and benchmarking of welfare improvements, though welfare assessments for zoo species are lacking. Bears are commonly housed in zoos but currently no composite welfare assessment tool exists for captive bears. This study describes the development of such a tool for use across hibernating bear species. A draft tool was developed using indicators derived from the literature and a modified Delphi analysis with an international group of bear keepers. A total of 18 bear keepers from 12 zoos were recruited to trial the tool on 24 brown bears and American black bears. The participating keepers assessed their bears three times across a period of nine days. Intraclass correlation coefficients analysis was used to analyse inter-, intra-rater and item reliability. The inter- and intra-rater reliability showed good to excellent levels of agreement (>0.7, p < 0.05). Item reliability was also assessed and showed good to excellent levels of agreement (>0.75, p < 0.05). The resulting bear welfare assessment is an important step in identifying and understanding challenges to bear welfare in captivity.