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What is 'animal welfare'?

"The above would suggest that 'animal welfare' includes not only the state of the animal's body, but also its feelings. Most would agree that animals have feelings like fear, frustration, boredom, aggression etc and it has been proposed that 'animal welfare' consists entirely in feelings and that these have evolved to protect the animal's primary needs.

Thus, if an animal feels well, it is faring well. A feelings-based approach to welfare research typically measures behavioral outcomes and behavioral signs of fear or frustration. Such research has led to the conclusion that animals have fundamental behavioral needs that they must be allowed to satisfy!"

Providing a healthy living environment for large carnivores in temporary or permanent captivity is fundamental to minimising illness and injuries. The animals at AfriCat are housed in spacious enclosures of between twelve and fifty acres in a natural, stress-free environment. They are fed a well-balanced diet and vitamin and mineral supplements are used to prevent deficiencies. The animals are observed on a daily basis to monitor their wellbeing and condition, allowing for a quick response and treatment for any illness or injuries should they occur.

Annual health checks on the large carnivores at AfriCat are headed by veterinarians from Namibia and South Africa. In-depth health examinations are carried out on all the captive and rehabilitated carnivores. All the cats are darted and then taken to a well equipped, newly built AfriCat clinic for their evaluations.

[The new clinic was kindly sponsored by long-time supporter and cat lover, Mr Jim Maltman.]

All the carnivores are vaccinated and treated for both external and internal parasites. Each cat receives a thorough dental examination. All the carnivores are also weighed & measured – an ongoing research project to be able to accurately determine the body mass index of a captive and free-roaming carnivore.

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Here at AfriCat, over the past 2 decades, the Rescue and Release Programme developed as a result of our relationship with the farming community.

The Welfare, in turn, was a by-product of the Rescue and Release Programme. We currently hold 12 Cheetahs in our care that are young, fit and wild enough to be part of our Rehabilitation Project. There are, however, 16 cheetahs, 4 leopards and 4 lion too old or tame to go back into the wild. These individuals are going to live out their lives under the expert care of the AfriCat team and continue to be "ambassadors" for their wild counter-parts.

It is only those that are not suitable for release that have remained in AfriCat’s care.



AfriCat Foundation @ Okonjima - Information Centre


AfriCat provides a home (min 1 ha per captive, large carnivore), food and care for over 36 animals that currently cannot be released into the wild, or who need subsidized diets while honing their skills in the Rehabilitation Reserve.
The 16 cheetahs, all rescued from commercial farmland across Namibia; 4 lions, all rescued from farmland adjacent to the Etosha National Park and 4 leopards all rescued from commercial farmland in central Namibia, are the permanent residents at AfriCat’s welfare sanctuary and are destined to remain with us for the rest of their lives as it is extremely dangerous and difficult to release hand-raised, captive, habituated big cats. Their hunting skills are instinctive, but due to captivity, they have lost their natural respect for humans and could cause loss of human life if released into the wild.

There are several reasons as to why these animals have had to remain in our care.

  1. The primary one being orphaned cubs that would be dependent on their mothers for food and protection and are too young to cope on their own. These cubs have either been captured without their mothers or their mothers have been killed. Only by limiting or eliminating those factors that influence habituation and ensuring that animals retain or regain their natural fear of man, will the rehabilitated animals be able to return to the land from which they were originally removed. To ensure that orphaned large carnivores have every chance of returning to the wild, the time they spend in temporary captivity is kept to a minimum; ideally the animals should be released into the rehabilitation reserve between the ages of two years to four years, when they would have already become independent from their mothers in the wild and strong enough to fend for themselves.
  2. Many of the animals that AfriCat has taken in have been in captivity elsewhere for extended periods of time; they have become habituated to people or completely tame, making most of them unsuitable for release. These animals are either no longer wanted, have become too expensive to care for, or have been confiscated by the authorities for being held illegally or with improper care.

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I. Assisting research: Keeping large carnivores in captivity in Namibia requires a Permit from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism. One of the conditions of this Permit is that a veterinary inspection is carried out once a year. To comply with this regulation AfriCat makes use of this opportunity to carry out thorough health examinations on the animals in care. Veterinary specialists in the fields of dentistry, ophthalmology, gastro-enterology and reproduction are also consulted to give input to the health assessments and perform various procedures that may be required. The animals are vaccinated, blood samples are taken and contraceptive implants are administered.

The annual health examinations of the cheetahs at AfriCat give invited specialist veterinarians the opportunity to conduct research on various aspects of animal health, particularly those relating to the health of large carnivores in captivity. As well as providing expert information on the health of AfriCat’s animals, the examinations also allow for the comparison of results with similar studies being conducted on large carnivores in other captive facilities. Some of this information can also be used to gain insight into the health of large carnivores in the wild.

Ongoing collaboration with scientists and the conservation authorities and working closely with the farming community allows for studies to be conducted that provide valuable information on large carnivores and their long-term conservation in Namibia. Researchers have been involved in a number of studies involving captive cheetahs at AfriCat’s Care Centre, as well as the cheetahs and leopards captured on farmland and released back into the wild.

II. Conservation Through Education: It is important to understand that animal welfare supports environmental education where children who are unfamiliar with wild animals are able to see these animals at close quarters and learn to appreciate their beauty and value. The animals in captivity at AfriCat provide opportunities to increase awareness of their wild counterparts and their conservation priorities to the children at the Education Centres as well as to foreign visitors to Namibia.

Keeping carnivores in captivity for this reason alone is not AfriCat’s philosophy and we hope with the new, 22 000ha Okonjima Rehabilitation Reserve (completed in 2010), less carnivores will have to stay in captivity. Conservation is complex: when wild animals compete with humans the solutions are not straight forward.

AfriCat started out with a mission statement to "keep wild cats wild", hence 'A free Cat'. Concentrating on Adult and Youth Education, initiating wild Cheetah Research including the help of farmers and evolving the Rehabilitation Project to such an extent that it becomes a worldwide model for Reintroduction, are all in keeping with that early statement.

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More about the definition of 'what animal welfare is'?

The term "animal welfare" is being used increasingly by corporations, consumers, veterinarians, politicians, and others. However, the term can mean different things to different people.

Understandably, in the past, veterinarians and farmers have seen animal welfare chiefly in terms of the body and the physical environment (shelter, feed, etc.): if an animal is healthy and producing well, it is faring well.

Research on aspects of animal welfare has also focused on the body, using physiological measures, such as endorphins, plasma cortisol, and heart rate, to examine how the animal is coping with its environment.

However, there are limitations to seeing animal welfare only in terms of the body. One limitation is that genetics and the environment can produce desirable physical outcomes, even though the animal's mental state is compromised. For example, a canine breed champion may have perfect conformation and be in perfect health, but it may be very anxious in its home environment.

Another limitation is that some physical parameters (heart rate, plasma cortisol) are difficult to interpret, because they can be increased by both positive and negative experiences, such as the presence of a mate and the presence of a predator.

Another view of welfare, linked to the feelings-based approach, is that animals fare best if they can live according to their nature and perform their full range of behaviours. In this case, physical suffering, such as feeling cold, and mental suffering, such as the fear induced by being preyed upon, may be acceptable.

Sectors of the general public favour the "natural living" approach, however, as with physical and mental aspects of welfare, animal welfare scientists have largely discounted this as the sole basis for ensuring optimal welfare. Instead, they propose that the physical, mental, and "natural-living" aspects of welfare are interrelated and are all of ethical concern. Thus, the most widely accepted definition of animal welfare is that it comprises the state of the animal's body and mind, and the extent to which its nature (genetic traits manifest in breed and temperament) is satisfied.

However, the 3 aspects of welfare sometimes conflict, and this presents practical and ethical challenges.


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