Promoting rhino welfare in an indoor space
The two male Southern white rhinoceroses living at the Detroit Zoo have been housed together in the habitat since June of 2005. In more temperate weather, they spend the daytime hours in a large outdoor habitat outfitted with various features that elicit species‐typical behaviors. Although the habitat lacks visual barriers, they have the choice to spend time with one another and to vary their distance from people (both visitors and animal care staff). In colder temperatures, the two rhinos inhabit an indoor space consisting of five stalls that can be configured as needed. The building is somewhat reflective of sounds, an impact that may be intensified when people are inside the building. Both husbandry practices and visitor presence may therefore play a part in the rhinos’ auditory environment.
After collecting baseline data on the behavior of the rhinos in both their indoor and outdoor habitats in early 2017, researchers are now evaluating modifications to the indoor habitat meant to optimize the social and auditory environment for the rhinos. Conditions being evaluated include barriers that increase the distance between the rhinos and zoo visitors, sound panels that absorb echoes in the building and visual barriers between the rhinos and the public. The results of this investigation will help guide decisions about further modifications to the rhino building to ensure that the rhinos have a great quality of life in both their indoor and outdoor spaces.