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Automated scatter-feeding increases foraging activity of zoo-housed meerkats Suricata suricatta to durations observed in the wild and elicits sentinel behaviour during feedings

Authors

  • Ida Bähler
  • Karin Federer
  • Leyla Davis
  • Sebastian Weber
  • Anita Burkevica
  • Sebastian Schneider
  • Paul Dierkes
  • Marcus Clauss Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.19227/jzar.v12i3.828

Keywords:

activity budget, diet, enrichment, feeding, foraging, meerkat

Abstract

Food-based environmental enrichment such as scatter-feeding is an important strategy to augment animal welfare in zoos. However, manually scattering food around an enclosure is time-consuming. Automatic scatter feeders could be an important tool to help implement better feeding strategies. This study hypothesised that a scatter-feeding regime would stimulate more natural feeding behaviours in meerkats Suricata suricatta and animals were expected to show more active foraging and less food monopolising behaviour compared to conventional lump feeding. Meerkat groups in three zoos were studied. The feeding regime of each meerkat group was manipulated over a total of five weeks in an A-B-A-B-A scheme, two scatter-feeding regime (B) weeks were interspersed with three lumped feeding regime (A) weeks. During scatter-feeding sessions, animals showed more foraging and less food monopolising behaviour, as well as being more active and visible overall than during lumped feeding sessions. The overall foraging behaviour of zoo-housed animals during scatter-feeding (36% of the total daily activity) was nearly identical to that reported for free-ranging animals (37% of the total daily activity). In two of the three zoos, individuals were observed to perform sentinel (or guarding) behaviour during feeding bouts under the scatter-feeding regime, a natural behaviour not observed during lump feeding. The results show that automatic scatter-feeding is a viable and effective tool to improve indicators of welfare in meerkats and potentially other animals.

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Original Research Article

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