Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) in U.S. zoos: I. individual behavior profiles and their relationship to breeding success

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Kathy Carlstead, Jill Mellen, Devra G. Kleiman
Zoo Biology
Inc., John Wiley & Sons
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Abstract This is the first part of a multi-zoo study to analyze the effects of captive environments on black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) behavior, breeding success, and well-being. We estimated the reliability and validity of a standardized method of cross-institutional assessment of the behavior of individual rhinoceros. In 1994 and 1995, we asked zookeepers at 19 zoos to rate their black rhinoceros (a total of 60 animals) on 52 behavior elements using a questionnaire. At 14 zoos, at least two keepers rated all the black rhinoceros at their zoo. We used average differences in their ratings of the 52 behavior elements to determine the most reliably rated behavior elements. Fourteen elements were retained for further analysis. Based on their inter-correlations, we grouped these 14 behaviors into six behavior traits: olfactory behaviors, chasing/stereotypy/mouthing, friendly to keeper, fearful, patrolling and dominant (to conspecifics). A behavior profile of each animal consisted of scores on these six traits that were the sum of the primary keeper’s ratings for each element in the group. To test the validity of these profiles, we compared scores on the six traits to the behavior of each rhinoceros during a standardized test of reactivity to a novel object and a novel conspecific scent. Tests were videotaped and analyzed by one researcher. Frequencies and durations of behaviors observed during the tests were correlated with scores on all six rated behavior traits. Scores on friendly to keeper, dominant, and olfactory behaviors described differences between black rhinoceros of captive/wild caught origin, age,and sex, respectively. Among successfully breeding males, scores on dominant and olfactory behaviors were negatively correlated with reproductive success, as was chasing/stereotypy/mouthing for females. To test the repeatability of these results, during 1996–1997, we used a modified questionnaire to re-survey 70 black rhinoceros at 24 zoos. Results of the second survey were also similar to those of the first with respect to the behaviors that distinguish rhinoceros of different origin, age, sex, and reproductive success. We conclude that ratings by keepers of behavior and temperament attributes can be used as reliable and valid cross-institutional descriptions of individual differences between black rhinoceros. Zoo Biol 18:17–34, 1999. © 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.


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