Assessing Giraffe Welfare During Seasonal Habitat Changes in Northern US Zoos
Keywords:animal behaviour, animal welfare, habitat, seasonal
Although there has been an increase in research studying the impact of housing on zoo animal welfare, there is still a lack of literature regarding the impact of seasonal housing differences on animal welfare. In northern American zoos, animals native to warmer climates inhabit an outdoor habitat during the summer and an indoor habitat during the winter. These habitats usually vary in size, in the amount of naturalistic habitat features and in the provision of diet. This study utilised a multi-faceted approach of behavioural observations, hormone monitoring and recumbency rates to assess giraffe welfare comparing outdoor, summer habitats and indoor, winter habitats at multiple institutions. A total of 13 giraffe were examined at four zoological institutions. Active non-forage behaviour was significantly higher in the outdoor habitat versus the indoor habitat (Z=?2.34, P=0.02), and active forage behaviour was significantly higher in the indoor habitat versus the outdoor habitat (Z=?2.27, P=0.02). In addition, higher levels of recumbency were exhibited in the indoor habitat than in the outdoor habitat. No significant differences were found for the other behavioural categories (inactive, abnormal) or for faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations between the two seasons. With positive welfare implications displayed in both indoor and outdoor habitats, these results suggest that housing giraffe indoors likely does not compromise their welfare. Future research should continue utilising multi-faceted approaches across multiple institutions that will help in the management of species that could be impacted by differing seasonal habitats.
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