Using Qualitative Behaviour Assessment to Investigate Human-Animal Relationships in Zoo-Housed Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis)

Human-Animal Relationships (HAR) in zoos develop from repeated interactions between animals and their caretakers. HAR have been shown to affect health and welfare in farm animals, but limited zoo-based studies exist. This study investigates the association between the qualitative behaviour assessment (QBA) of emotional expression in giraffes and keeper action score in four types of keeper-animal interaction (KAI). Three giraffes generating 38 clips. QBA, using a free-choice profiling methodology, was applied instructing 18 observers to assess giraffe expressions shown in these clips. QBA scores were analysed using Generalized Procrustes Analysis. Keeper actions during each KAI event were rated by an independent marker, resulting in cumulative scores for keeper action quality. The association between QBA and the keeper action was analyzed using Spearman’s rank correlations. Two main QBA dimensions were identified explaining 59% of the variation between clips. There were significant effects of giraffe and KAI type on QBA dimension 2 (inquisitive/impatient—calm/distracted), and significant positive associations between keeper action quality rating and QBA dimensions 1 and 2, indicating that positive keeper actions resulted in calm and confident giraffes with a willingness to interact. This is the first successful application of QBA for empirically addressing HARs in zoos, however given the small sample size of giraffes in this study, it can be regarded as a pilot study only, and further research is needed to validate the use of QBA in this context.

Publish DateMay 14, 2020
Last UpdatedJanuary 27, 2021
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