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April 27, 2022

Studying nonhuman animals at Animal Sanctuaries instead of in captivity could change the human-animal relation.

Ethology of the Freed Animal: New ways in behavioral research?

Nonhuman animals are rarely considered as individuals in behavioral research and their characteristics are usually attributed to whole groups: chickens are like this, elephants have this and so on. As the two authors Celentano and Martinelli write in an article published in 2017, this reflects the questionable, hierarchical human-animal relations.

The studies reproduce the balance of power by clearly distinguishing between human and "the animal". In these structures, nonhuman animals are always "the others" and not "we."

Usually the ethological results are based on observations of non-human animals in captivity. The authors refer mainly to exploitative conditions in which nonhuman animals are kept by humans for use. A second field of observation concerns nonhuman animals in nature. However, the authors Celentano and Martinelli propose a new approach.

Ethology of the Freed Animal

The Ethology of the Freed Animal (EFA) is based on the non-invasive observation of freed nonhuman animals. These come from captivity that were associated with suffering for them. They can spend their further lives at Animal sanctuaries or similar forms of housing. There they have the opportunity to develop their individual characteristics and preferences in the near-natural environment possible.

This approach of behavioral research is already practiced at some Animal sanctuaries, but so far there is no concrete methodological development and academic recognition. In addition, many observations are not or too little collected in accessible databases and are therefore not available for scientific evaluations. That is why Celentano and Martinelli are calling for more collaboration between scientists and Animal sanctuaries. The authors emphasize that the  freed nonhuman animals should be observed without significant intervention and without interactions with humans. The special feature is that it can be examined more closely how nonhuman animals behave after their "release" on Animal sanctuaries. One focus is on how nonhuman animals cope with an environment in which they regain more control over their own bodies. In addition, group structures and interactions, which are now possible, are to be studied. The focus is on the individuals and their needs.

Individuals with their own history

Since the behavior is also influenced by experiences and past living conditions, researchers in the EFA should also take into account the history of the individual non-human animals and make them part of ethological investigations. The protocols therefore contain not only clinical and visual profiles but also biographical information. In addition to the ethological requirements, the EFA approach also includes ethical approaches and generally requires scientists and people to treat nonhuman animals with greater respect.

What happens with EFA?

The ethological discipline of the freed animal is still very much at the beginning, which is why this article should serve as an introduction and initiate discussions. The goals of the EFA sound promising with regard to a changed human-animal relations and focus on the individuals. At the same time, this method must also be critically reflected. It would be desirable in the future to deal more intensively with the role of the observing person. Their own backgrounds and position in society also influence how they interpret their observations. Similarly, it would be critical to discuss elsewhere that nature is idealized in the article and presented as something given in which nonhuman animals would be completely free.


Celentano, M., Martinelli, D. (2017). Ethology of the Freed Animal: Concept, Methods, Projects. Preprints, 2017100099 (doi: 10.20944/preprints201710.0099.v1).




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