24/7 behaviour and welfare of giraffes

Publication Type:
Conference Proceedings
Year of Publication:
Anke Vaesen, Sarah Depauw, Marina Salas, Hilde Vervaecke, Jeroen Stevens
BIAZA Research Symposium, Date: 2021/07/13-2021/07/14, Location: Online
, , , ,

Giraffes are known for their remarkable sleeping patterns. While this has received ample scientific attention, and interesting differences in nocturnal behaviour between giraffe subspecies have been recently recorded, results of these studies are not always related to animal welfare. Especially now that 24/7 welfare concepts are being applied to zoos, a better understanding of sleep and nocturnal behaviour in zoo-housed giraffes can be of special interest to assess welfare in giraffes. Here we monitored the behaviour of a herd of 5 Kordofan giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum) at Zoo Planckendael (Belgium) during 10 days, collecting on each day four hours of observation between 0800h and 1600h (daytime), and 8 hours of observation between 1600h and 0800h (night-time). The first author used a detailed ethogram in ZooMonitor to score daytime behaviour based on live observations, while night time behaviour was scored from video recordings that were made in the stables of the giraffes. We found that the Kordofan giraffes spent on average 1.3% of the night-time observations in paradoxical sleep (also known as REM sleep). They also spent 15% of the night lying down without other activity, but distinguishing between recumbent sleep and resting was difficult based on the video footage. A further 20% was spent lying down and ruminating. During the daytime, ruminating while lying down was barely observed (0.6%), but giraffes spent more time standing in rumination during the day (19%) compared to the night (5%). While overall time spent ruminating was similar between night and day, in this herd, rumination while lying down was almost exclusively shown at night, when the animals had access to their indoor stable. Interestingly the only time they ruminated during daytime while lying down, was when the giraffes were being kept indoors because of bad weather. The giraffes spent slightly less time feeding during the night (23%) compared to the daytime (29%). Oral stereotypies (licking, tongue-rolling) and locomotor stereotypies (pacing, neck-swaying) were all reduced at night-time compared to day time. Compared to previous published studies on Rotschild and reticulated giraffes, the Kordofan giraffes have very similar percentages for time spent feeding and paradoxical sleep. Rumination was not reported in previous studies, but our results suggest potentially important qualitative differences in rumination between night-time and daytime. In other ruminants, it has been suggested that rumination while lying down is a good indicator for positive welfare. Therefore we suggest this behaviour deserves more attention in future studies of giraffe welfare in zoos.


Back to Resources