Welfare of animals in zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries, and animal parks


Ratification Date: 20 Jul 2023


The purpose of this policy is to provide member guidance and information to the public on the importance of animal welfare in zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries, and animal parks.


  1. Zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries, and animal parks can fulfill important conservation, research and educational roles, however animal welfare outcomes can vary between establishments. It is essential that all facilities are established, maintained, and monitored according to high standards of animal welfare.
  2. Veterinarians who have experience in the various species kept in zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries, and animal parks must be engaged by these facilities.
  3. Institutions should aim to exceed the minimum welfare requirements under legislation; it is recommended that all facilities strive to achieve higher standards such as those required by the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA)1.


This policy is applicable to all animals as defined by the AVA “Statement of principles – animal welfare and ethics”[1] - see footnote

Zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries, and animal parks can play a significant role in today’s society by providing services addressing the following missions:

  • conservation of threatened species, involving both in situ and ex situ breeding and other programs, and including the re-introduction of individual animals into rehabilitated habitats when appropriate;
  • research programs that support conservation activities and link to other research institutions;
  • formal education at all levels from school children to postgraduate students, and informal education to develop an interest by the broader community in the animal kingdom and their interaction with the environment.

It is recognised that, in fulfilling these functions, these facilities also provide recreational and educational activities for the visiting public.

Good animal welfare incorporates both physical and mental wellbeing. Ongoing assessment and improvement of animal housing, feeding and overall welfare, based on research into the behaviour, nutrition, and disease control of wildlife in human care, is strongly supported.

Zoos can play an important role in the conservation of endangered species through captive breeding programs (noteworthy examples include the Corroboree frog and Regent honeyeater in NSW, and the Tasmanian devil) and in research into ecosystem health, animal health, husbandry, and management. Zoos actively provide a range of formal and informal educational activities about animals and their environments that support the development of positive attitudes in the community towards animals.

The peak body at the national level is the ZAA1, which conducts a stringent accreditation process for its members. Collection planning is done under the auspices of the Australasian Species Management Plan (ASMP) to maximise the cooperative management of captive populations for genetic and demographic purposes.


  • Zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries, and animal parks must operate in accordance with the Five Domains Model2, a science-based paradigm which provides a best-practice framework to assess welfare in all species.1
  • All facilities must strive to provide natural, stimulating environments, with high mental and physical welfare goals for every species in their care. Husbandry techniques should be consistent with the animals’ natural behaviours and welfare needs.
  • Institutions housing cetaceans, great apes and elephants should have a formal comprehensive enrichment plan and a formal system for assessing and addressing the welfare of each individual animal.
  • Housing must be secure for both animals and the public.
  • Where interactive programs occur (close contact between humans and animals), protocols must be in place to protect the health and welfare of humans and animals, including to mitigate the risk of zoonoses and reverse zoonoses (zooanthroponoses).
  • All interactive programs and animal presentations should be regularly assessed and only continue if there is a positive welfare outcome for the animals involved.
  • Institutions should understand that legislation often provides a minimum standard and all facilities should aim for higher welfare standards. The AVA supports all organisations which are, or strive to be, accredited by ZAA1 or a similar organisation.
  • The AVA encourages the development of national standards and guidelines which focus on the health and welfare of animals in zoos, aquaria, sanctuaries, and animal parks.


Where no specific state legislation exists, the guidelines in the New South Wales Exhibited Animals Protection Act, 1986 (EAPA) and subordinate legislation must be strictly observed. The EAPA provides a guide to the facilities necessary for the keeping of non-domesticated animals and is the minimum standard expected for exhibited animal housing. The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Exhibited Animals3 were endorsed in April 2019 by the Agriculture Ministers (AGMIN). They are yet to be regulated into law by all State and Territory governments. These are minimum standards and striving for higher standards is recommended.


  1. Zoo Aquarium Association Australasia [homepage on internet]. Available from: https://www.zooaquarium.org.au/
  2. Mellor DJ, Beausoleil NJ, Littlewood KE, McLean AN, McGreevy PD, Jones B, Wilkins C. The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including Human-Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare. Animals 2020;10, 1870. https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/10/10/1870

Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines [home page on internet] – Exhibited Animals, The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Exhibited Animals. Available from: https://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/exhibited-animals/


[1] Animals that are known to be both conscious and sentient include all of the vertebrates, and some classes of invertebrates such as cephalopods and some crustacea. Ongoing research may lead to inclusion of additional groups within this definition. Sentience is the capacity to experience emotions: pain, suffering, negative and positive affective states.  See: AVA Statement of principles – animal welfare and ethics