Use of remote camera traps to evaluate animal-based welfare indicators in individual free-roaming wild horses.
We previously developed a Ten-Stage Protocol for scientifically assessing the welfare of individual free-roaming wild animals using the Five Domains Model. The protocol includes developing methods for measuring or observing welfare indices. In this study, we assessed the use of remote camera traps to evaluate an extensive range of welfare indicators in individual free-roaming wild horses. Still images and videos were collected and analysed to assess whether horses could be detected and identified individually, which welfare indicators could be reliably evaluated, and whether behaviour could be quantitatively assessed. Remote camera trapping was successful in detecting and identifying horses (75% on still images and 72% on video observation events), across a range of habitats including woodlands where horses could not be directly observed. Twelve indicators of welfare across the Five Domains were assessed with equal frequency on both still images and video, with those most frequently assessable being body condition score (73% and 79% of observation events, respectively), body posture (76% for both), coat condition (42% and 52%, respectively), and whether or not the horse was sweating excessively (42% and 45%, respectively). An additional five indicators could only be assessed on video; those most frequently observable being presence or absence of weakness (66%), qualitative behavioural assessment (60%), presence or absence of shivering (51%), and gait at walk (50%). Specific behaviours were identified in 93% of still images and 84% of video events, and proportions of time different behaviours were captured could be calculated. Most social behaviours were rarely observed, but close spatial proximity to other horses, as an indicator of social bonds, was recorded in 36% of still images, and 29% of video observation events. This is the first study that describes detailed methodology for these purposes. The results of this study can also form the basis of application to other species, which could contribute significantly to advancing the field of wild animal welfare.