Visual body condition scoring in zoo animals – composite, algorithm and overview approaches
Various body condition scoring (BCS) methods have been developed as management tools in zoo animal husbandry. In contrast to BCS for farm animals, where visual and palpable features are used, these protocols are mainly restricted to visual cues. Considering their inherent subjectivity, such methods face scepticism as their reliability is questioned. In terms of their respective methodology, composite BCS (where individual body regions are scored and a sum or mean is calculated), algorithm BCS (where a score is achieved by following a flow chart) and overview BCS protocols (where a score is given based on overall appearance) can be distinguished. In order to compare their practicability and consistency, we conducted a test with veterinary students (n=18) scoring an equal number (n=15) of African (Loxodonta africana) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) photographs using three different protocols. The composite approach showed least inter-observer consistency, while the overview protocol led to the highest differentiation of individual elephant condition. When regularly assessed, visual body condition scoring may serve as an important tool for the health surveillance and complete the medical history of individual zoo animals. Nonetheless, a validation process for each protocol developed should be carried out before its application. Further research might concentrate on long-term, individual-based body condition monitoring, using archives of standardised photographs.
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