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.