Effects of Guest Feeding Programs on Captive Giraffe Behavior

Zoological institutions develop human-animal interaction opportunities for visitors to advance missions of conservation, education, and recreation; however, the animal welfare implications have yet to be evaluated. This behavioral study was the first to quantify impacts of guest feeding programs on captive giraffe behavior and welfare, by documenting giraffe time budgets that included both normal and stereotypic behaviors. Thirty giraffes from nine zoos (six zoos with varying guest feeding programs and three without) were observed for three days each, using both instantaneous scan sampling and continuous behavioral sampling techniques. All data were collected during summer 2012 and analyzed using generalized linear mixed models. The degree of individual giraffe participation in guest feeding programs was positively correlated with increased time spent idle and marginally correlated to reduced time spent ruminating. When time spent eating routine diets was combined with time spent participating in guest feeding programs, individuals that spent more time engaged in total feeding behaviors performed less oral stereotypic behavior such as object-licking and tongue-rolling. By extending foraging time and complexity, guest feeding programs have the potential to act as environmental enrichment and alleviate unfulfilled foraging motivations that may underlie oral stereotypic behaviors observed in many captive giraffes. Additionally, management strategies can be adjusted to mitigate idleness and other program consequences. Further studies, especially pre-and-post comparisons, are needed to better understand the influence of human-animal interactions on zoo animal behavior and welfare.

Last Updated
January 26, 2021
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