Zoo Foraging Ecology: Preference and Welfare Assessment of Two Okapi (Okapia johnstoni) at the Brookfield Zoo

Applying principles of foraging ecology to zoo-housed animals can positively influence animal behavior, and assist with evaluating exhibit space and design. In this study, we implemented zoo foraging ecology by measuring giving-up densities (GUDs) in food patches to address several welfare-related questions with captive okapi (Okapia johnstoni). Our objectives were to: (1) determine whether food patches can reveal how the individual animals perceive their exhibit space (i.e., areas of preference and aversion; landscapes of comfort); and (2) determine whether implementation of food patches could reduce performance of repetitive behavior. We established 24 food patches throughout the 929 m2 outdoor exhibit, determined each okapi’s landscape of comfort, and evaluated the effects of the presence or absence of these food patches on okapi behavior. Food patches revealed landscapes of comfort that were unique to each individual. Food patch presence did not significantly lower the proportion of time spent in repetitive behavior, but did significantly increase the proportion of time that each animal spent actively foraging and animal movement throughout the exhibit space. We conclude that utilizing food patches in animal enrichment and welfare regimes can benefit zoo-housed species, particularly okapi, by providing not only a valuable form of enrichment, but by also allowing animals to directly reveal their individual perceptions and exhibit preferences to their caretakers.

Publish DateApril 15, 2021
Last UpdatedApril 15, 2021
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