Monitoring the welfare of giraffes in two Belgian zoos

Publication Type:
Conference Proceedings
Year of Publication:
Caroline Heylen, Sarah Depauw, Marina Salas, Hilde Vervaecke, Jeroen Stevens
BIAZA Research Symposium
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Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) are a popular species held in many zoos. Welfare concerns have been expressed, and often are focussed on measuring indicators of (potential) negative welfare such as locomotory and oral stereotypies. Here we present additional data on potential positive welfare indicators, as have been suggested for ruminants, focusing on feeding time, rumination, affiliative behaviour and self-grooming. We also monitored oral stereotypies (tongue rolling and licking), locomotor stereotypies (neck swaying and pacing) and interspecific aggression. The first author observed giraffes in two Belgian zoos. Zoo A housed three giraffes of mixed subspecies and four Hartmann’s mountain zebras (Equus zebra hartmannae) together. Zoo B housed five Kordofan giraffes (G. c. antiquorum) together with four addax (Addax nasomaculatus), four Mohr gazelle (Nanger dama mhorr) and 49 guinea fowl (Numida meleagris). Each individual was observed during 10 days for a total of 40 hours, using ZooMonitor. Behavioural data showed that in both zoos, feeding made up about 35% of the activity budget during daytime, but in Zoo the A giraffes spent less time interacting with feeding enrichment, and more time in “feeding with mouth”. The giraffes in Zoo A spent 10% less time on rumination (7% of observation time) compared to those in Zoo B (17%). Affiliative behaviour and self-grooming occurred more in Zoo B compared to Zoo A. Time spent in stereotypical behaviour accounted for 8% of the time in Zoo A, and 5% of the time Zoo B, but differed in kind. Tongue rolling was more prevalent in Zoo A, while neck swaying occurred more in Zoo B. Interspecific aggression occurred in both zoos but was more common by the mountain zebras in Zoo A. Preliminary analyses of the data suggest that free access to the indoor enclosure in Zoo A may have reduced locomotory stereotypical behaviour, while in B a different feeding strategy likely resulted in less oral stereotypic behaviour and improved gastrointestinal health, as indicated by higher rates of rumination. Compared with Zoo A, Zoo B focussed more on multiple forms of feeding enrichment, used only slow feeders to provide roughage, and provided substantially more browse during wintertime.These results will be used in a follow up study where we will optimise dietary management in both zoos, and evaluate its impact on the positive and negative welfare indicators collected in this pilot study.


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