Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Biology
Maintaining captive animal populations possesses many benefits to conservation, education, and research, but at a cost of reduced animal freedom and welfare. Due to the many geographical, social, and behavioral restrictions placed on captive animals, it is important to study their welfare so that facilities can improve the lives and health of their captive populations. One reliable factor which has been used as a real-time indicator of an animal’s well-being is stereotypic behavior. Stereotypies are repetitive, unvarying behavior patterns performed with no purpose or goal that develop as a result of various negative environmental factors. They often represent animal distress when present at high rates. Currently, there are few studies that analyze the effects that exhibit design and spatial distributions (i.e. where and what animals are doing at different locations in their enclosures) have on these behaviors. We hypothesized that exhibit design and the spatial distributions of stereotypies are important factors to consider when trying to manage captive animal welfare. To test our hypothesis, we analyzed the behavior profiles, exhibit-use, and pacing routes of five individual African lions (Panthera leo) and four individual cougars (Puma concolor) housed in two different facilities. Through the use of video observation, modified ethograms, and spatial tracking we found a strong correlation between the location of stereotypic behavior and the amount of visual stimulation available at those locations. Animals performed stereotypic behaviors significantly more along guest viewing areas and at places in the exhibit where other animals were visible to each individual. We also analyzed the effects of temperature, facility type, and exhibit size and found trends that can be explored in future research. These results provide new ways to effectively manage captive felid populations and have potential implications for improving captive animal welfare in the future.