Abstracts: Use of remote camera traps to evaluate animal-based welfare indicators in individual free-roaming wild horses

We previously developed a Ten-Stage Protocol for scientifically assessing the welfare of individual free-roaming wild animals using the Five Domains Model.

The protocol includes developing methods for measuring or observing welfare indices. In this study, we assessed the use of remote camera traps to evaluate an extensive range of welfare indicators in individual free-roaming wild horses.

Still images and videos were collected and analysed to assess whether horses could be detected and identified individually, which welfare indicators could be reliably evaluated, and whether behaviour could be quantitatively assessed. Remote camera trapping was successful in detecting and identifying horses (75 per cent on still images and 72 per cent on video observation events), across a range of habitats including woodlands where horses could not be directly observed.

Twelve indicators of welfare across the Five Domains were assessed with equal frequency on both still images and video, with those most frequently assessable being body condition score (73 per cent and 79 per cent of observation events, respectively), body posture (76 per cent for both), coat condition (42 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively), and whether or not the horse was sweating excessively (42 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively).

An additional five indicators could only be assessed on video; those most frequently observable being presence or absence of weakness (66 per cent), qualitative behavioural assessment (60 per cent), presence or absence of shivering (51 per cent), and gait at walk (50 per cent). Specific behaviours were identified in 93 per cent of still images and 84 per cent of video events, and proportions of time different behaviours were captured could be calculated.

Most social behaviours were rarely observed, but close spatial proximity to other horses, as an indicator of social bonds, was recorded in 36 per cent of still images, and 29 per cent of video observation events. This is the first study that describes detailed methodology for these purposes. The results of this study can also form the basis of application to other species, which could contribute significantly to advancing the field of wild animal welfare. 

Andrea M. Harvey 1, John M. Morton2, David J. Mellor3, Vibeke Russell4, Rosalie S. Chapple5, Daniel Ramp1.

Animals (Basel). 2021; 11(7): 2101.doi: 10.3390/ani11072101.

1Centre for Compassionate Conservation, School of Life Sciences, University of Technology Sydney, Ultimo, NSW 2007, Australia.

2Jemora Pty Ltd., P.O. Box 2277, Geelong, VIC 3220, Australia.

3Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand.

4Veterinary Contractor, c/o Animal Emergency Australia, P.O. Box 1854, Springwood, QLD 4217, Australia.

5Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, 16 Dunmore Lane, Katoomba, NSW 2780, Australia.

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