Tongue twisters: Feeding enrichment to reduce oral stereotypy in giraffe

Stereotypic behavior has been well-studied and documented in a variety of animals including primates, carnivores, and domesticated ungulates. However,very little information is known about stereotypic behavior of captive exotic ungulates. Giraffe have been found to perform a wide range of stereotypic behaviors. According to a survey of zoological institutions, oral stereotypies, specifically the licking of nonfood objects are the most prevalent stereotypic behaviors observed in giraffe. Their performance appears to be related to feeding and rumination and may be a result of the inability of a highly motivated feeding behavior pattern, tongue manipulation, to be successfully completed. To test this hypothesis, the indoor and outdoor feeders for three giraffe housed at Zoo Atlanta were modified to require the giraffe to perform more naturalistic and complex foraging behaviors. Data were collected using instantaneous scan sampling in both exhibit and holding areas. Our results showed that, for the giraffe that engaged in the highest rates of oral stereotypic behavior in the baseline, more complex feeders that required tongue use to access grain or alfalfa had the greatest effect on behavior. For the giraffe that performed low baseline rates of oral stereotypic behavior, adding slatted tops to the alfalfa feeders indoors virtually eliminated the behavior. Although some changes in ruminating and feeding behavior were observed, the decreases in stereotypic behavior were not associated with the changes in ruminating or feeding behavior. These results provide evidence for the hypothesis that oral stereotypy in herbivores can be reduced by encouraging giraffe to engage in more naturalistic foraging behavior.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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