Behavioural patterns in zoo-housed Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) revealed using long-term keeper-collected data: validation of approaches and improved husbandry

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Anne E Goodenough, Amy Sewell, Katie McDonald
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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Given the increasing obligation to elevate animal welfare beyond minimum expectations, zoos need robust mechanisms to monitor physical activity and species-appropriate behaviours. This is not without challenge as animal behaviour can vary seasonally or be influenced by external factors such as weather and visitors. In theory, keepers who work with animals year-round are ideally situated to collect behavioural data. However, time pressure often means any data collection is minimal, ad-hoc, or skewed towards particular times of day. Here we compare infrequent low-intensity ad-hoc data on activity and behaviour of zoo-housed Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) collected by keepers with simultaneous high-intensity systematic data collected by a researcher. Once out-of-sight records (more frequent in researcher data) were excluded from both datasets, we found excellent agreement between keeper and researcher data. After this validation step, we collected extensive multi-year keeper data (diurnal hourly scan samples; 262 days across a 5-year study period) to assess potential influence of time of day, time of year, visitors, and weather on penguin behaviour. There were pronounced seasonal patterns: aquatic active behaviours were highest in autumn (38.9% in October) compared to early spring and late summer (February = 16.7%; August = 19.4%). Time of day was also important: terrestrial inactive behaviours increased throughout the day and this pattern was significantly more pronounced in summer than winter. Aquatic active behaviours were more frequent during warmer/sunnier conditions compared to cooler/wetter conditions, while the reverse was true for terrestrial inactive behaviours. Birds were much less active on days when the site was closed to visitors. Overall, we demonstrate that where keeper-collected data are validated and found to be robust and representative, there are real opportunities to study long-term behavioural patterns that can quickly translate to tangible husbandry benefits and improved animal welfare.


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