CZAAWE Resource Article

Behavioral Decisions for Managing Social Distance and Aggression in Captive Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus)
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
2006
Authors 
Publication/Journal 
Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
Abstract 
The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) in most zoos attracts high levels of public attention and can play an important role in conservation education. Polar bears in the wild are typically solitary; bears in captivity often house socially. This study reported behavioral evidence on how bears manage this situation and whether proximity leads to aggression. The study recorded location and behavior once per minute for 106 hr for 2 female polar bears at the Philadelphia Zoo; the samples represented all times of day bears spent in the enclosure (off-exhibit time spent in separate, indoor dens). When changing locations, 1 bear more frequently moved away from the other, effecting a net increase in interindividual distance. When either bear moved into an adjacent zone, 1 typically moved away. The bears occupied the same enclosure zone for a low proportion of time; proximity did not routinely lead to overt aggression. These data indicate polar bears make behavioral decisions, minimizing aggression, to manage social distance and that enclosure designers for solitary species--to facilitate social avoidance--should consider using topographical complexity and multiple pathways throughout.