Monitoring the behavioral and adrenal Aactivity of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) to assess welfare during seasonal housing changes

In inclement weather, northern zoos are required to provide animals from warmer climates with indoor exhibits. These indoor exhibits are typically smaller, lack natural substrate, and have lower levels of stimulation for the animals. The purpose of this study was to examine the welfare of four reticulated giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) exhibited at the Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo - during the summer in an outdoor enclosure compared to the winter in an indoor enclosure. A combination of direct behavioral observations, percentage of time spent recumbent, and adrenal hormone monitoring through fecal samples were utilized for a more comprehensive look at welfare. Individual variation was observed between the giraffe. An adult female giraffe engaged in Active Forage behavior significantly more in the winter compared to summer (mean difference = 0.23, p = 0.049). An adult female and a juvenile male displayed significantly more Active Non-Forage behavior in the summer than in the winter (mean difference = 0.32, p = 0.048; mean difference = 0.31, p = 0.048). The predominant behavior in the summer for the group as a whole was Active Non-Forage (59%), whereas Active Forage was most prevalent in the winter (60%). There was also a significant positive correlation between time spent recumbent per hour for each 24-hour day measured in the summer and winter (r = 0.51, p = 0.010). Although no significant differences were found for individual FGM concentrations between the seasons, average FGM concentrations for the group were 2306.67 ng/g in the summer and 4261.64 ng/g in the winter. Information gained from this study can help aid animal managers to make informed decisions to ensure each individual giraffe is thriving year-round. In addition, we hope this study can serve as a model to examine the seasonal welfare of other animals in zoological institutions with similar conditions.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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