Understanding Sonoran Desert Tortoises and Animal Welfare Assessment Contest


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Understanding Sonoran Desert Tortoises

Sonoran desert tortoises are native to North America’s arid landscapes, specifically adapted to rocky crevices and harsh environments. They feed on wildflowers, scrub grasses, and cactus paddles, surviving extreme temperatures.

Animal Welfare Assessment Contest

The Animal Welfare Assessment Contest challenges students to empathize with different animal species and evaluate their well-being in various scenarios. It involves analyzing the care provided to animals in different settings.

Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights

While animal welfare focuses on optimizing the treatment of animals in human care, animal rights advocates question the morality of human use of animals. The distinction between the two perspectives is essential in animal-related fields.

The Role of Animal-Welfare Science

Animal-welfare science, developed by interdisciplinary experts, aims to consolidate knowledge on animal care. It encompasses research on nutrition, environment, social interactions, and medical needs of various animal species.

Listen to this article, read by Gabra Zackman

This past November, in a large, carpeted banquet room on the University of Wisconsin’s River Falls campus, hundreds of undergraduate, graduate and veterinary students silently considered the lived experience of a Sonoran desert tortoise. Perhaps nine in 10 of the participants were women, reflecting the current demographics of students drawn to veterinary medicine and other animal-related fields. From 23 universities in the United States and Canada, and one in the Netherlands, they had traveled here to compete in an unusual test of empathy with a wide range of creatures: the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest. That morning in the banquet room, the academics and experts who organize the contest (under the sponsorship of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the nation’s primary professional society for vets) laid out three different fictional scenarios, each one involving a binary choice: Which animals are better off? One scenario involved groups of laying hens in two different facilities, a family farm versus a more corporate affair. Another involved bison being raised for meat, some in a smaller, more managed operation and others ranging more widely with less hands-on human contact.Then there were the tortoises. On screens along the room’s outer edge, a series of projected slides laid out two different settings: one, a desert museum exhibiting seven Sonoran specimens together in a large, naturalistically barren outdoor enclosure; the other, a suburban zoo housing a group of four tortoises, segregated by sex, in small indoor and outdoor pens furnished with a variety of tortoise toys and enticements. Into the slides had been packed an exhausting array of detail about the care provided for the tortoises in each facility. Only contestants who had prepared thoroughly for the competition — by researching the nutritional, environmental, social and medical needs of the species in question — would be able to determine which was doing a better job.

“Animal welfare” is sometimes misused as a synonym for “animal rights,” but in practice the two worldviews can sometimes be at cross purposes. From an animal rights perspective, nearly every human use of animals is morally suspect, but animal-welfare thinkers take it as a given that animals of all kinds do exist in human care, for better or worse, and focus on how to treat them as well as possible. In the past half century, an interdisciplinary group of academics, working across veterinary medicine and other animal-focused fields, have been trying to codify what we know about animal care in a body of research referred to as “animal-welfare science.”

This enriched content provides a detailed overview of Sonoran desert tortoises, the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest, the distinction between animal welfare and animal rights, and the significance of animal-welfare science.

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