Spatial Design of Guest Feeding Programs and Their Effects on Giraffe Participation and Social Interactions

Guest-animal feeding programs (GFPs) in zoological institutions aim to foster human-animal connections. The growing establishment of animal welfare science emphasizes the assessment of GFPs as permanent environmental inputs to habitats that require analysis of behavioral output. This study assessed the role of space allocation on giraffe participation and interactions in GFPs in two Florida zoos.
Analysis of social structure indicates that centrality and influence from affiliative network on exhibit shape sharing interactions at GFPs under varying management protocols and designs. Findings suggest that interactions and significant ties among conspecifics are context and potentially temporally dependent. We propose the use of multiple guest engagement stations to maximize space and facilitate feeding opportunities for central and peripheral members. This proposed shift would provide variable feeding opportunities that represent group composition following ecological theory while maximizing points of guest engagement.
Results indicate that increasing space allocation for GFPs increased feeding bout length for individuals, percent of time sharing among conspecifics, and reduced average rate of displacement/minute. Cross-institutional comparisons indicate that guest programs with more space allocation have lower rates of conspecific displacement.

Last Updated
February 17, 2021
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