WhO WE ARE
"Welfare has become established as one of various criteria used to decide on whether a system is sustainable because members of the public will not accept systems that cause poor welfare".
— Professor D. Broom, Acta Ethologica 2011
Our passion is enhancing animal welfare. We use the latest science to provide objective data and advice, specialising in zoo animals.
Despite an increased public concern for animal welfare, human activity is impacting both captive and wild animals now more than ever. Intensive farming, climate change, pollution and habitat degradation are just some of the anthropogenic factors that seriously decrease animals' quality of life. Scientists consider 'welfare' the balance of positive and negative affective (emotional) states, and have developed methods to assess this objectively. However, as yet there is little practical application of such measures in animal management contexts.
Animal Welfare Expertise, or AWE, provides exclusive insight and understanding into animal welfare issues. The organisation was founded by Dr Isabella Clegg who saw first-hand that while welfare science continued to progress, the transfer of knowledge into the various animal industries was lagging behind. This highlighted the unexplored and unique advantages that measuring welfare could provide for the management of wild and captive animals. AWE fills this gap by using innovative, easy-to-understand tools to evaluate the welfare of an animal population, group, or individual, while also developing management programs to assure optimal quality of life in the future.
Our objective is to provide a detailed understanding regarding the welfare of animals in our clients' direct or indirect care, and to achieve this our approach has 3 main facets:
Animal-based measures. Our evaluations of welfare concern the animal's responses to the environment (outputs), as opposed to the resources we provide them with (inputs). Animal-based measures are the most accurate and precise way to measure welfare.
Evidence-based practice. Our recommendations always follow the 3 principles of evidence-based practice, using: the latest scientific advances; our expert judgement to take into account the unique characteristics of the context; and considering the client's preferences and values.
Collective responsibility. Our expertise on the welfare state of animals is neither punitive nor judgemental. The emphasis is firmly placed on moving forward to increase welfare if need be, and to develop sustainable management programs and capacity-building exercises to allow continued monitoring and improvement.
Isabella Clegg, PhD
FOUNDER and Director
Dr Isabella Clegg founded Animal Welfare Expertise with the overall goal of using science to improve animal welfare. She felt the key was to increase the flow of information from the scientific domain towards those responsible for wild and captive animals. Isabella has been passionate about animal welfare from a young age, but like many did not know that such principles could be the foundation of an academic career. She studied Animal Behaviour & Welfare at the University of Bristol, before completing a Masters in Marine Biology (focus on Marine Mammal Science) at the University of Miami. Here, she teamed her knowledge of welfare science with captive dolphin management to develop the first welfare assessment in this setting, the C-Well© Assessment (further details). Isabella then won funding from the French government (ANRT), and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, to conduct a PhD at the Université Paris 13, Sorbonne Paris Cité, in developing welfare parameters for captive dolphins. The work went deeper into measuring animal emotions and was completed in 2017, leading to a number of high-profile publications and media recognition, including a TEDx talk.
Now, Isabella is passionate about furthering awareness of behaviour and welfare issues among those working with animals, through the organisation AWE. Her main speciality lies in marine mammals and zoo animal welfare assessment and enjoys building long-term relationships with zoo professionals, but she also has experience in many other areas. Through AWE, she consults on wildlife campaigns for NGOs (e.g. WAP's Marine Debris campaign), sanctuary projects (e.g. Beluga Whale Sanctuary, Iceland) government deliberations over captive animals (Flanders Government, Belgium; NSW Enquiry, Australia), and has been on the ground taking data for conservation projects (ABYSS, La Réunion; Patagonia Projects, Chile). She sits on Welfare Committees and Advisory Boards for several zoos and organisations, and is a member of the British and Irish Zoo and Aquarium (BIAZA) Animal Welfare Working Group and the European Association of Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) Welfare Committee.
Rhiannon Schultz, MA
Welfare Consultant and Project MAnager
Rhiannon Schultz serves as the Project Manager for Animal Welfare Expertise. She has extensive experience working with a wide range of both domestic and exotic species but has specialised expertise with primates. Rhiannon has also worked as a certified dog trainer, as a wildlife technician and rehabilitator, and is a certified Pet Therapeutic Nutrition Coach. Rhiannon earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biological Anthropology with a focus on primate behavioural ecology from the University of California, San Diego, and a Master’s degree in Biology with a focus on wildlife conservation from Miami University. She is currently earning her doctorate at the University of Georgia where she studies western lowland gorilla physiology, nutrition, and health in North American zoos. Previously, Rhiannon served as a Research Coordinator for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research (now San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance), and in 2022, earned the National Science Foundation Non-Academic Research Award which funded her additional animal nutrition and husbandry training with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.
Rhiannon is passionate about advancing animal welfare for all species, and is especially interested in the role that nutrition plays in the physical and mental wellbeing of animals under human care. Her primary goal is to support animal care and conservation teams by providing the tools, data, and research connections they need to provide optimal welfare for species in their care.
Kristen Szpak, CoMmunications Manager
Kristen Szpak has been working with marine mammals for over 13 years, studying cetacean behavior ecology both in managed care facilities and in the wild. She is currently Director of Education and Research at Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, FL, USA, where she oversees various projects with their Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins in residence. Kristen was very excited to join the AWE team as the Communications Manager because she recognises the importance of using the most progressive methods of evidence-based improvement of animal welfare, and she wishes to share these practices with facilities around the world.
AWE's Global AMbassador Program
Animal Welfare Expertise partners with “Global Ambassadors” who share our ethos and vision for measuring and enhancing welfare. They can be researchers, animal caretakers, veterinary professionals, or simply motivated individuals who are committed to furthering AWE’s impact through its work. The role of Global Ambassadors is to link AWE with potential clients, where they receive commission if AWE is successfully engaged for a project.
Cherissa Garcia, DVM CertAqV
AWE Global Ambassador
Dr Cherissa Garcia is a certified aquatic veterinarian with seven years of clinical experience specialising in marine mammal and fish medicine. The field offers unique challenges, which has led Cherissa to believe that focusing on optimal care and holistic welfare should be our top priority. Animal Welfare Expertise applies an objective and scientific approach towards animal welfare enhancement, and Cherissa is proud to be a Global Ambassador as she believes this is key in developing innovative, species- and individual-specific techniques in a very diverse practice.
Due to the inherent subjectivity present in welfare evaluations and the value of experience in the field, AWE also engages a team of welfare experts – world-leaders in their fields – to share their experience and advice on AWE's projects. Meet AWE's Team of Advisors here.