Scientific Papers


© Rory Harper

Evaluating the Reliability of Non-Specialist Observers in the Behavioural Assessment of Semi-Captive Asian Elephant Welfare (Webb et al., 2020)

January 24, 2020

Summary: It is essential that elephant workers monitor the stress levels of their animals to uphold high standards of welfare. This can be done quickly and efficiently by observing elephant behaviour, however, the consistency of this approach is likely to vary between workers. While this variation has been tested in zoo elephants when observations were carried out by experienced observers, the consistency of observations made by non-experienced observers on the much larger population of Asian elephants working in Southeast Asia has yet to be explored. By constructing a list of elephant working behaviours, we employed three volunteer observers with no experience of elephant research to record the behaviour of Asian elephants working in Myanmar. We then tested the similarity between observations collected by the three observers, as well as the consistency that individual observers could repeatedly recognise the same behaviour. Overall, observers recognised the same behaviour from the videos and were highly consistent across repeated observations. These results suggest that the behaviours tested may represent useful indicators for welfare assessment, and that non-experienced observers can meaningfully contribute to the monitoring of elephant welfare.

Photo: Zoo Negara

Swimming features in captive odontocetes: Indicative of animals’ emotional state? (Serres et al., 2020)

January 15, 2020

Abstract: Captive welfare studies in odontocete species have been mostly conducted on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) while the welfare of many other species’ -including endangered species- remains poorly studied. More research is needed to find and validate potential indicators of welfare for each species and even for each group. Since captive odontocetes spend most of their time swimming, their swimming features are interesting to study in relation to their welfare state. We first analysed the circular swimming direction bias in three groups of captive odontocetes (Yangtze finless porpoises: Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis; East-Asian finless porpoises: N. a. sunameri; and bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus). Second, we studied the effect of environmental and social factors (i.e., time of the day, delay to training, enrichment, potential perturbation, social grouping, public presence and housing pool) on circular swimming, fast swimming, group swimming, synchronous swimming and contact swimming in the three groups. Yangtze finless porpoises exhibited a clockwise swimming bias while East-Asian finless porpoises and bottlenose dolphins swam significantly more in the counter-clockwise direction. Each studied factor significantly impacted the animals’ swimming behaviour slightly differently depending on the group. However, some patterns were common for the three groups: animals seemed to be more active in the morning than at noon and in the afternoon, and enrichment seemed to decrease circular swimming, fast swimming and social swimming (i.e., synchronous, contact and group swimming), while potential perturbations (e.g., pool cleaning, noise) seemed to increase it. In addition, behaviour differed for Yangtze finless porpoises and bottlenose dolphins right before the training or when other animals were being trained, suggesting an anticipation of this event or an excited/frustrated state in this context. Social separation also impacted these animals’ swimming behaviour with less group swimming but more circular swimming, synchronous swimming and fast swimming when separated. The housing pool had an impact on bottlenose dolphins’ behaviour with more circular swimming, more fast swimming and less group swimming when having access to a larger space. The effect of the presence of public was unclear and requires further investigation. From our results, we propose that circular swimming, synchronous swimming and contact swimming could be useful to monitor animals’ emotional state, but that additional parameters should be added (e.g., swimming speed) since these behaviours can be expressed both in quiet and relaxed contexts and in stressful ones. In addition, fast swimming can be a useful indicator of stress for porpoises but might be more ambiguous for bottlenose dolphins that engage in intense social play bouts for instance. Finally, group swimming might be a good behaviour to monitor when wanting to investigate reactions to various conditions or events that can potentially be stressful. We suggest that further research should be conducted on other groups of odontocetes to validate our findings.

Photo credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Assessing the Psychological Priorities for Optimising Captive Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) Welfare (Veasey, 2020)

December 30, 2019

Abstract: The welfare status of elephants under human care has been a contentious issue for two decades or more in numerous western countries. Much effort has gone into assessing the welfare of captive elephants at individual and population levels with little consensus having been achieved in relation to both the welfare requirements of captive elephants, or their absolute welfare status. A methodology capable of identifying the psychological priorities of elephants would greatly assist in both managing and assessing captive elephant welfare. Here, a Delphi-based Animal Welfare Priority Identification System© (APWIS©) is trialled to evaluate the reliability of the methodology and to determine the welfare significance of individual behaviours and cognitive processes for Asian elephants (Elaphus maximus). APWIS© examines the motivational characteristics, evolutionary significance and established welfare impacts of individual behaviours and cognitive processes of each species being assessed. The assessment carried out here indicates appetitive behaviours essential for survival in the wild, together species-specific social and cognitive opportunities are likely to be important to the welfare of Asian elephant in captivity. The output of this assessment, for the first time, provides comprehensive species-specific psychological/welfare priorities for Asian elephants that should be used to inform husbandry guidelines, habitat design and management strategies and can also provide a valuable reference tool for Asian elephant welfare assessment. The effective application of these insights could lead to substantive improvements in captive Asian elephant welfare.

Photo credit: Audubon Nature Institute

The use of Qualitative Behavioural Assessment to zoo welfare measurement and animal husbandry change. (Rose & Riley, 2019)

January 01, 2020

Abstract: Zoological institutions have come a long way over the past twenty years in their measurement and evaluation of animal behaviour and welfare. Environments that enable the performance of biologically-relevant activity patterns, which increase behavioural diversity and ensure appetitive behaviours can be completed in full are commonplace in zoos globally. The use of species-specific environmental enrichment (EE) techniques, where the effect of EE is evaluated and refined, further enhance the opportunities for species to experience positive welfare in the zoo. What is still required is evaluation of the lasting effect of such husbandry and housing changes that provide meaningful long-term welfare improvements. Within British and Irish (BIAZA), and European (EAZA) collections welfare state is often inferred from behavioural measurements or determined based on a correlation of behavioural responses and physiological fluctuations. To provide evidence for best practice management, we need to provide benchmarks at a species-specific level that are comparable across husbandry and management regimes, as well as across environmental conditions that captive populations occur in. This paper provides an outline of the relevance of Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA) to those working in the field of zoo animal husbandry to show how valid and objective measurements of welfare state can be taken on individuals living in zoos in a range of different situations. We evaluate the current literature to show the depth and breadth of QBA application to provide suggestions for future areas of research investigation and a practical usage in the zoo. We show how QBA can be used to target the application of EE to meet specific husbandry needs or promote key welfare-positive behaviour. We evaluate the relevance of positive challenge “eustress” to captive species and identify areas for the wider application of QBA across captive population and institutions to further support the key aims of the modern zoo. We provide coverage of literature on QBA in the domestic animal field and attempt to apply these methods to a zoo-based example. We conclude by evaluating why zoos need to consider the results of qualitative, multi-institution studies and how the results of this can be utilised to improve husbandry and animal experiences in the zoo.  

Photo credit: WWT

Effects of assembly and operation of an amusement ride on the behaviour of a pair of captive Amur tigers (Panthera tigris altaica) (Harley et al., 2019)

November 23, 2019

Abstract: The effects of construction, noise, and visitors on behavioural and physiological responses in zoo animals have become increasingly well documented. However, scientific data are lacking on the impact of amusement rides on the welfare of captive animals.  

Capital developments in 2014 at Tayto Park, Ireland included expansion of their theme park. This project provided an opportunity to investigate the effects of visual and auditory stimuli of an amusement ride on the behaviour of two Amur tigers. Data on the behaviour and spatial location of the tigers in the enclosure, as well as visitor numbers and noise levels, were collected across four phases of the project; pre-assembly, assembly, operation and when the park closed in the off-season. Differences in the tigers’ behaviour across phases were analysed with Kruskal-Wallis tests, correlations were tested with Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient and enclosure use was calculated using a modified SPI Index.

Time tigers spent off-show (in-house) was proportionately higher during Phase Two and findings were statistically significant for the male (X2(3) = 7.935, p=0.047). SPI values show that the female tiger had a strong bias when utilizing her enclosure in Phase Two with an SPI of 0.87 and spent 87% of her time off-show (in-house). There was no significant difference between phases in the proportion of time tigers spent in observed behaviours. Further, there was no statistical difference in behaviours exhibited by the tigers in Phases with high and low decibel levels and visitor numbers. It was concluded that visual disturbance from the ride was more aversive to the tigers that either noise or visitor levels.

Zoological collections should consider the potential negative impacts of novel visual stimuli and provide free access to off-show retreat, as well as to ensure visual barriers are sufficient to minimize environmental disturbance.

Photo: Tayto Park

Change in stingray behaviour and social networks in response to the scheduling of husbandry events (Farmer et al., 2019)

November 16, 2019

Abstract: Husbandry tasks are often carried out at the same time and in the same manner every day, resulting in the potential for them to become predictable to animals. An unpublished study conducted on a mixed species enclosure of blue-spotted ribbontail rays (Taeniura lymma) and blue-spotted maskrays (Neotrygon kuhlii), reported increased intra and interspecies aggression preceding training sessions that took place at a fixed time. This study monitored the behavioural responses of the rays to training events, when training was carried out on either a predictable or an unpredictable schedule. Overall, incidences of aggression on days when training occurred were lower than when no training took place; however, aggression rates varied according to the schedules of training and group composition. Increased activity levels before a training session suggest anticipation of this event. Comparison of social networks for aggressive interactions between conditions showed species and individual differences in aggression. However, these differences may have been in response to a change in social composition of the group in the middle of the study and not due to differences in study conditions. This study will inform management practice by highlighting the importance of husbandry regimes on animal behaviour.

Photo: Living Coasts

A Review of Welfare Assessment Methods in Reptiles, and Preliminary Application of the Welfare Quality® Protocol to the Pygmy Blue-Tongue Skink, Tiliqua adelaidensis, Using Animal-Based Measures (Benn et al., 2019)

October 11, 2019

Abstract: Reptiles are held at wildlife parks and zoos for display and conservation breeding programs and are increasingly being kept as pets. Reliable indicators of welfare for reptiles need to be identified. Current guidelines for the captive management of reptiles utilize resource-based, rather than animal-based indicators; the latter being a more direct reflection of affective state. In this paper we review the literature on welfare assessment methods in reptiles with a focus on animal-based measures. We conclude that, whilst a number of physiological and behavioral indicators of welfare have been applied in reptiles, there is need for further validation of these methods across the diversity of species within the Class. Methods of positive welfare state assessment are comparatively understudied and need elucidation. Finally, we examine some widely-used welfare assessment tools in mammals and explore the application of the Welfare Quality® Protocol to the endangered pygmy blue-tongue skink, Tiliqua adelaidensis. We propose that this framework can form the basis for the development of taxon-specific tools with consideration of species-specific biology.

Photo credit: Zoos South Australia

Monitoring the Behavior and Habitat Use of Animals to Enhance Welfare using the ZooMonitor App (Wark et al., 2019)

October 07, 2019

Abstract: Regular monitoring of the behavior, habitat use, and appearance of animals can provide valuable insight into their welfare. These ongoing data can help identify meaningful trends that can be acted upon to enhance welfare, and potentially reveal individual preferences and patterns that can facilitate care tailored to the individual. To provide a low cost, flexible, user-friendly tool for staff to conduct systematic behavioral monitoring, Lincoln Park Zoo, with development support from Zier Niemann Consulting, created the ZooMonitor app. With ZooMonitor, users can record the behavior and habitat use of animals using standardized animal behavior recording methods as well as log individual characteristics such as body condition or coat/feather quality. These data can be recorded using computers or tablet devices, and data are uploaded to a cloud server where the user can conduct automated reliability tests to check observer consistency and generate built-in reports such as activity budgets and heat maps showing how animals use their available space. To demonstrate the use of ZooMonitor in an ongoing monitoring program, two case studies from Lincoln Park Zoo are presented: 1) promoting increased foraging and broader habitat use of pygmy hippos (Choeropsis liberiensis); and 2) tracking feather condition changes in a flock of domestic chickens (Gallus gallus). These examples highlight the importance of standardized monitoring and use of digital tools like ZooMonitor to enable science-based husbandry practices and promote positive welfare for animals in human care.

Photo credit: Lincoln Park Zoo

The Andean bear alopecia syndrome may be caused by social housing (Van Horn et al., 2019)

September 28, 2019

Abstract: The Andean bear alopecia syndrome is a progressive and chronic condition documented in ex situ populations. Recent advances focus on treating symptoms, not preventing future cases. We therefore explored the epidemiology of this syndrome through an analysis of husbandry and veterinary conditions of 63 Andean bears (26M:37F) housed in North and South American zoos and other ex situ circumstances. We had the most complete information for the North American population and found that 29% of females (n = 24) were affected. No males (n = 26) were affected. An analysis of generalized linear models indicated that three models were competitive in describing the occurrence of the condition (i.e., ΔAICc  ≤ 2): the model including only the individual's sex (χ2 = 13.41, df = 1, p < .001), the model including both individual sex and social housing status (χ2 = 1.36, df = 2, p < .001), and the model including both individual sex and the expression of stereotypical behaviors (χ2 = 13.82, df = 2, p = .001). Stereotypical behaviors were common among both males (50%, n = 26) and females (51.9%, n = 27) whether or not they were affected, but the syndrome was seen only in females who had been socially housed. Therefore, we suggest that the Andean bear alopecia syndrome is a symptomatic response to the long‐term social housing of bears that would otherwise not live socially. To prevent new cases, we recommend that female Andean bears be housed with adult conspecifics only when females choose to cohabitate.

Photo credit: San Diego Zoo

Sleep‐related behaviors in zoo‐housed giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata): Basic characteristics and effects of season and parturition (Takagi et al., 2019)

September 22, 2019

Abstract: Despite increasing interest in the behavior of zoo animals, studies of nocturnal behavior of zoo animals are limited. In this study, we investigated the relationship between parturition, season, and the sleep‐related behaviors in captive reticulated giraffes to better understand the nocturnal life in giraffes. The subjects were two adult reticulated giraffes living in Kyoto City Zoo, Japan. Observations were made via an infrared camera that was mounted in the indoor enclosure between June 2007 and August 2009. We analyzed video clips that were recorded between 16:30 and 09:00 the next morning, over a total of 199 days. Sleep‐related behaviors were classified into two categories based on the posture of the giraffes; recumbent posture and paradoxical sleep. We also recorded the laterality of recumbent posture, which was coded based on the direction of the legs against the torso (right or left). Seasonal differences in sleep behaviors between summer and winter were observed in both individuals. They tended to start to lie down earlier in the winter than in the summer. Parturition also affected the behaviors as both individuals decreased the behaviors before and after the parturition of the female. Additionally, the female lay on her left side less frequently than her right when resuming a recumbent posture in the pre‐parturition period, while such laterality was not observed in the baseline and post‐parturition period. These results suggested that season and parturition are important factors for determining the sleep‐related behaviors in giraffes. Further studies are needed to understand how these changes in sleep affect other welfare parameters.

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