The Beast Within: Measuring the Minds of Zoo Animals

Though zoos have come far from their early days of concrete boxes in caring for their residents’ physical health, zoo animals’ mental health–the feelings and thoughts beneath
the furry and scaly exteriors–has only recently become a serious field of research. The fear of anthropomorphism, or the furnishing of non-human entities with human
characteristics such as “happy” or “depressed,” has discouraged scientists for decades from approaching this seemingly unscientific and unknowable topic. But as the concept
of welfare becomes increasingly lauded as the main focus of zoos, crucial to zoos’ attendance, their respect by society, and their future existence, zoo keepers, curators, and
researchers are beginning to seek out new ways to discover and understand their animals’ true feelings–broadening ‘animal welfare’ to include minds as well as bodies.

This thesis explores new studies, technologies, and ways of thinking about animal mental welfare among zoo researchers. Specifically, the thesis focuses on researchers at Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, who have developed a unique tool for studying welfare based on the idea that animals have emotions that can and should be ascertained-and that keepers, those who spend long periods of time with the animals, have the ability to tell how their animals are feeling.


About Julia Duke

Julia’s first book told the story of an “ugly” dinosaur who, à la “The Ugly Duckling,” had simply been hanging around with a dissimilar species. This story foreshadowed some of Julia’s life passions, including writing, studying evolutionary biology and history, and spending time with animals of the non-human variety. Julia grew up an aspiring veterinarian in St. Louis and entered Harvard College an aspiring writer. She exited college with a History of Science degree, having satisfactorily indulged her simultaneous loves for science and writing – particularly in an honors thesis her senior year, in which she explored anthropomorphism and scientific story-telling in the age of Darwin. Julia then worked happily alongside scientists and animals in the Conservation & Science department of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo for two years. She can often be found volunteering at wildlife rehabilitation centers, petting strangers’ dogs, and searching for bits of wilderness in the city. Thesis: The Beast Within: Measuring the Minds of Zoo Animals


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