The effects of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of captive meerkats (Suricata suricatta)
Olfactory stimulation has been demonstrated to enhance welfare in a range of captive species through increasing behavioural diversity or decreasing frequencies of abnormal behaviours. Despite meerkats being commonly kept in many animal collections, research into methods of enrichment for captive meerkats is minimal and to date, the effects of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of meerkats have not been explored. This study investigated the effects of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of five meerkats (four females, one male; all captive-born) in response to five individual odour treatments: lavender, rosemary, catnip, prey odour and a no-odour control. Odours were presented individually on cloths in the animals’ enclosure for a period of three days per stimulus and meerkat behaviour was recorded using a scan-sampling technique. There was no significant effect of individual olfactory stimulation on the meerkats’ interaction with the cloth or general behaviour, although when odour versus no odour conditions were considered, higher levels of vigilance and eating behaviour were exhibited in the presence of olfactory stimuli. Overall, our findings suggest that olfactory stimulation in the form of odour-scented cloths does not greatly influence the behaviour of captive meerkats. However, further investigation using a larger sample size, different methods of odour presentation and more biologically relevant odours is recommended in order to fully explore the potential application of olfactory stimulation as enrichment in captive meerkats.
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