Effects of enclosure complexity and visitor presence on the welfare of Asiatic lions

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Sitendu Goswami, Praveen C Tyagi, Pradeep K Malik, Brij K Gupta
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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In recent years, there has been much research into the individual effects of enclosure complexity and visitor presence on captive animal welfare. However, the inter-linkages between enclosure complexity and visitor presence and their combined influence on the welfare of large carnivores like Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) remains poorly understood. We compared the welfare status of 41 Asiatic lions housed in three types of enclosure, viz., off-display (N = 17), zoo-safari (N = 4), and on-display (N = 2) at Sakkarbaug zoological park. We scored enclosures based on their species-appropriateness of their design and levels of exposure to visitors. To measure the welfare impacts, we recorded the behaviour patterns of captive Asiatic lions between March 2015-January 2016, spanning 30 observation days per animal. We recorded both positive and negative welfare markers for study subjects, viz., behaviour diversity, spread of participation index, along with measures of stereotypy, and the activity budget of the study subjects. Zoo-safari and off-display enclosures were more feature-rich and species-appropriate than the on-display enclosures. On-display enclosures had significantly higher levels of visitor presence as compared to zoo-safari enclosures, while the off-display enclosures had no visitors. Zoo-safari and off-display enclosures accorded captive Asiatic lions sufficient withdrawal areas, which was unavailable at the on-display enclosures. Subjects housed at off-display and zoo-safari enclosures had similar behaviour patterns and welfare indices (species-typical behaviour diversity, enclosure usage patterns, and aberrant repetitive behaviours). In contrast, the behavioural welfare indices differed significantly across visitor levels in the low-complexity on-display enclosures. Animals housed in high complexity enclosures with minimal (zoo-safari) or no visitor presence (off-display) display overall better levels of positive welfare markers(behaviour diversity and uniform enclosure usage) than animals housed in low complexity enclosures with high visitor presence. Therefore, Asiatic lions housed in poorly designed on-display enclosures do not have access to the complex, feature-rich, large enclosures available to their conspecifics housed in the off-display and zoo-safari enclosures. Our results indicate that enclosure complexity is the most important factor affecting most of the welfare markers recorded in this study, while visitor presence primarily affected enclosure usage. Our findings showcase the importance of enclosure complexity and novelty in preventing and offsetting the repercussions of captivity and visitor presence in Asiatic lions.


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