Zoo FAQ: Do the Animals Get Bored?

Icy enrichment encourages natural behaviors from polar bear Anana. It's just part of a zoowide effort to monitor--and promote--animal well-being.

Icy enrichment encourages natural behaviors from polar bear Anana. It's just part of a zoowide effort to monitor--and promote--animal well-being.

The Science Behind Sound Animal Care

“Someone might come up to the lion yard and say Sahar looks bored,” says Matthew Heintz, Ph.D., the zoo’s Welfare Monitoring Post-Doctoral Fellow. “Actually, wild lions spend up to 20 hours of the day sleeping. It’s what they do.”

Understanding the natural behavior of animals in the wild is critical to providing appropriate care for those living at zoos. But animal welfare is never a simple matter. Snapshot impressions of how an animal appears to be faring don’t provide the entire picture.

“Good welfare can be challenging to evaluate because there are lots of different things that can affect it,” says Megan Ross, Ph.D., vice president of Animal Care. “That’s why we have keepers, veterinarians, endocrinologists and behaviorists who come at welfare from different angles. It sounds like an easy topic, but it’s very complex.”

Zookeepers are the first line of defense. If they notice a behavioral change that doesn’t seem quite right they call in the zoo’s veterinarians, who make house calls around zoo grounds every day. They also encourage activity by training individuals to participate in their self-care and providing stimulating enrichment appropriate for a given species.

“Scent enrichment makes sense for cats. Puzzle feeders occupy fingers and minds for gorillas, who forage all day,” says Ross. “But putting a big object in with hoofstock can frighten them because they’re used to being prey species. You have to know your animals.”

Special "looky loo" mirrors are among the items used to enrich Lincoln Park Zoo's great apes.

Special "looky loo" mirrors are among the items used to enrich Lincoln Park Zoo's great apes.

Heintz, who’s studied wild chimpanzee play behavior in Tanzania, is using ZooMonitor, a new iPad app developed by the zoo, to take behavior monitoring research to the next level. Modeled on programs used at Regenstein Center for African Apes, it lets zoo scientists and caregivers review data collected daily on a variety of species to determine if, say, the way an animal is using an exhibit is new or part of a recurring
seasonal pattern.

One recent focus: collecting baseline data on the baby black rhino, King, and his mom, Kapuki. “We’re looking at the frequency of typical mother-calf behaviors as well as how this youngster exhibits play behavior with mom or by himself,” says Heintz. “King has a lot of energy, and there’s been plentiful nursing. Kapuki is doing what she needs to do.”

By using the ZooMonitor app to collect behavioral data on black rhino mom Kapuki and baby King, zoo scientists can get baseline data on how the animals interact.

"By using the ZooMonitor app to collect behavioral data on black rhino mom Kapuki and baby King, zoo scientists can get baseline data on how the animals interact.

Heintz and the zoo’s endocrinologists at the Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology also study animals’ stress by analyzing hormone levels in fecal samples. This valuable information can help confirm or guide animal care decisions related to observed behavior.

All the baseline data will help link future changes in behavior to health and welfare. One added benefit for Heintz: collecting it certainly isn’t boring.

 

By Craig Keller • Published February 4, 2014 • Originally published in Winter 2013 Lincoln Park Zoo Magazine


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Lincoln Park Zoo magazine Winter 2013 issue

Zoo FAQs
How does the zoo stay free? How are the animals paired up? Do the animals get bored? Where does all the poop go? We answer your most frequently asked questions in the latest issue of Lincoln Park Zoo magazine.