Narshi, T. M., Free, D., Justice, W. S. M. et al. 2022. Welfare assessment of invertebrates: Adapting the animal welfare assessment grid (AWAG) for zoo decapods and cephalopods. Animals 12(13), 1675.
Consumer demand for invertebrates is on the rise as their numbers in the wild dwindle. However, with the growing conservation efforts of modern zoos and aquariums, and evidence from over 300 studies showing that invertebrates are capable of sentience, public interest, and moral concern for welfare of invertebrates have increased. The challenge for zoos and aquariums is in developing an objective and repeatable method for evaluating welfare that can be applied to invertebrates in zoological collections. Recently introduced into zoological collection management is the Animal Welfare Assessment Grid (AWAG). The AWAG helps to identify negative and positive welfare states, through assessing animal- and environmental-based indicators to make changes that lead to a better quality of life. Originally developed for the assessment of laboratory primates, the system has been successfully adapted to assess a variety of taxa across different environments, facilitated by the development of cloud-based software. In this study, the AWAG has been adapted to assess the cumulative lifetime experience of captive decapods and cephalopods at two different institutions, Marwell Zoo and National Marine Aquarium. This study has provided further evidence that the AWAG is adaptable and demonstrates the first time any objective scoring system has been successfully adapted for use in invertebrates. Through graphical representation, the results show that the AWAG identifies changes in welfare scores that can be attributed to specific events and can be used to predict the future vulnerability of species to welfare changes and suggest alternative management methods. This monitoring tool provides a versatile method of implementing practical welfare monitoring in zoos and aquariums.