Animal Health & Husbandry

© Rory Harper

Scientific Papers

Environmental Enrichment

Motion Illusions as Environmental Enrichment for Zoo Animals: A Preliminary Investigation on Lions (Panthera leo) (Regaiolli et al., 2019)

October 21, 2019

Abstract: Investigating perceptual and cognitive abilities of zoo animals might help to improve their husbandry and enrich their daily life with new stimuli. Developing new environmental enrichment programs and devices is hence necessary to promote species-specific behaviors that need to be maintained in controlled environments. As far as we are aware, no study has ever tested the potential benefits of motion illusions as visual enrichment for zoo animals. Starting from a recent study showing that domestic cats are spontaneously attracted by a well-known motion illusion, the Rotating Snake (RS) illusion, we studied whether this illusion could be used as a visual enrichment for big cats. We observed the spontaneous behavior of three lionesses when three different visual stimuli were placed in their environment: the RS illusion and two control stimuli. The study involved two different periods: the baseline and the RS period, in which the visual stimuli were provided to the lionesses. To assess whether the lionesses were specifically attracted by the RS illusion, we collected data on the number of interactions with the stimuli, as well as on the total time spent interacting with them. To investigate the effect of the illusion on the animals’ welfare, individual and social behaviors were studied, and compared between the two periods. The results showed that two lionesses out of three interacted more with the RS stimulus than with the two control stimuli. The fact that the lionesses seemed to be more inclined to interact with the RS stimulus indirectly suggests the intriguing possibility that they were attracted by the illusory motion. Moreover, behavioral changes between the two periods were reported for one of the lionesses, highlighting a reduction in self-directed behaviors and an increase in attentive behaviors, and suggesting positive welfare implications. Thus, behavioral observations made before and during the presentation of the stimuli showed that our visual enrichment actually provided positive effects in lionesses. These results call for the development of future studies on the use of visual illusions in the enrichment programs of zoo animals.

Photo credit: Parco Natura Viva

Chemosensory enrichment as a simple and effective way to improve the welfare of captive lizards (Londoño et al., 2018)

September 14, 2019

Abstract: Environmental enrichment has proven to be a useful and effective welfare tool in order to evaluate and enhance the well‐being of captive animals, but only when it is based on detailed knowledge of each species' natural behaviour. Chemoreception is fundamental to many aspects of reptilian biology; however, sensory enrichment with chemical stimuli has rarely been applied to reptiles. In this study, we evaluate the use of chemosensory enrichment as a method to enhance the welfare of Podarcis liolepis. For seven weeks, we exposed field‐caught males to scents from donor conspecific males collected on pieces of filter paper (i.e., “enriched” group, n = 18), and compared their behaviour to that of control males provided with unscented pieces of filter paper (n = 18). We measured the occurrence of normal (e.g., locomotion) and abnormal (escape attempts) behaviours each day for three weeks. In addition, we conducted two exploration tests and a visual barrier test. Compared to controls, enriched lizards showed a consistent long‐term decrease (29%–38%) in the occurrence of escape attempts. During exploration tests, enriched lizards spent less time performing escape attempts and devoted more time to perching than controls. As expected, both control and enriched lizards showed a reduction of time in locomotion and an increase in the time spent perching between the first and second exploration test, but these changes were significantly more pronounced for enriched animals. Taken together, our results suggest improved welfare of enriched animals, as they spent less time engaging in abnormal behaviours, more time in normal behaviours, and showed signs of faster habituation to a novel environment. Chemosensory enrichment is a relatively simple enrichment strategy that could potentially be applied to improve the welfare of a wide range of captive lizards, and reptiles at large.

Photo credit: Bernard Dupont 

Assessment of contrafreeloading preferences in giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) (Sasson-Yenor & Powell, 2019)

September 07, 2019

Abstract: Contrafreeloading is an intriguing phenomenon in which animals will work to obtain resources, such as food, when the same resource is simultaneously freely available. Multiple hypotheses exist for why animals might choose to contrafreeload. In this study, we assessed preferences for contrafreeloading in giraffe at the Bronx Zoo to determine whether they actually preferred to contrafreeload or were simply demonstrating a willingness to contrafreeload. Food was presented in a range of distributions between an easily accessed feeding device and a more challenging one and the giraffes’ feeding behavior at these two types of feeding devices was recorded. As the experiments progressed, more giraffe used these more challenging feeders. There was significant individual variation in the expression of preference for contrafreeloading and willingness to contrafreeload. Individual, phase of the experiment, and an interaction between these factors were significant predictors of challenge feeder use. Three foraging strategies emerged among the giraffe that we termed “freeloaders,” “contrafreeloaders,” and “opportunists.” The results of this study demonstrate that multiple indices of preference are necessary when assessing contrafreeloading behavior, and that giraffe are affected to different degrees by the factors that stimulate contrafreeloading. These results may shed light on why different individuals use complex feeding enrichment devices to varying extents.

Photo credit: Honolulu Zoo

Training penguins to interact with enrichment devices for lasting effects (Fernandez et al., 2019)

August 28, 2019

Abstract: The modern zoo has brought about two major advances in the behavioral welfare of their exhibited animals: (a) The use of environmental enrichment to promote naturalistic behaviors and (b) the use of training to improve voluntary husbandry care. Whereas training itself has been talked about as an effective enrichment strategy, little has been done to combine training procedures with enrichment. Typically, enrichment is treated as a trial and error process, where potential enrichment items or procedures are cycled through until successful enrichment is found. The use of shaping or other training techniques has seldom been documented to increase engagement with possible enrichment items or procedures. The following study examined the possibility of combining training and enrichment to produce continued interactions with enrichment devices. Two species of penguin, Magellanic and southern rockhopper penguins, were studied. Two measures were taken: Time spent swimming and contact with enrichment devices. The enrichment devices could be manipulated by placing fish within and hanging out of each device. During baseline sessions, no hits to either device were observed. During training sessions, several hits were recorded when fish were in the devices and overall swimming time increased during these conditions. When baseline was reintroduced without fish in the devices, contact with the enrichment devices rapidly declined and swimming time for the rockhopper penguins decreased. When the devices were reintroduced with fish but without training, the greatest number of enrichment device contacts and the highest percentage of time spent swimming were observed for the rockhopper penguins.

Photo credit: Cincinnati Zoo

Evaluation of Enrichment for Reptiles in Zoos (Eagan, 2018)

August 25, 2019

Abstract: Studies on environmental enrichment for reptiles are lacking in the scientific literature. Although the literature reflects a limited take on reptile enrichment in the zoological community, it may not be the case in reality as enrichment is generally considered an important aspect of the care of nonhuman animals in captivity. This project investigated the current state of reptile enrichment as it is being used in zoos. Although respondents were disproportionately accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the results showed many forms of enrichment being used for reptiles in zoos and happening at much greater levels than what has been suggested in the scientific literature. There were significant differences between a) reptile groups for each form of enrichment, and b) enrichment forms within each reptile group, except with the use of natural enrichment devices and structural/habitat design, which did not differ across all reptile groups. Enrichment goals, assessment methods, and sources of information for reptile enrichment used by zoos suggest the need for more scientific publications for facilities to make evidence-based decisions to improve the welfare of reptiles in captivity.

Photo credit: ZSL

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Photo: Saint Louis Zoo

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