The effects of increased hay-to-grain ratio on behavior, metabolic health measures, and fecal bacterial communities in four Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi) at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

We evaluated whether increasing the hay-to-grain ratio offered to Masai giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis tippelskirchi) at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo would reduce oral stereotypies and alter feeding behaviors, maintain or increase serum calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, decrease serum insulin-to-glucose ratio and salivary insulin, and alter fecal bacterial community structure. Giraffe transitioned to a ∼90:10 hay-to-grain ratio in even increments over 8 weeks. A ration balancer was added during the seventh week of transition to ensure proper mineral and nutrient balance. We collected (1) behavioral data collected approximately daily using instantaneous focal sampling; (2) serum collections every other week for insulin-to-glucose and calcium-to- phosphorus ratio analysis and saliva weekly for insulin analysis; and (3) weekly fecal sample collections to examine changes in bacterial community structure during the 8 weeks preceding and following the diet change. After the diet change, giraffe spent significantly more time feeding and less time performing tongue and mouth stereotypies, people-directed and alert behaviors. Salivary and serum insulin and serum insulin-to-glucose ratio decreased, and fecal bacterial community structure changed significantly. However, serum calcium-to-phosphorus ratio remained >1:1 throughout the study. While further studies are needed to elucidate the nature and implications of the change in fecal bacterial community structure and metabolic hormones, the results of this study show promise for incremental improvements in health and welfare from feeding a higher proportion of forage in the diet.

Last Updated
February 2, 2021
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