Space use as an indicator of enclosure appropriateness: A novel measure of captive animal welfare

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Stephen R. Ross, Steven J. Schapiro, Jann Hau, Kristen E. Lukas
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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Empirical measures of animal behavior and space use within the captive environment can provide critical information about animals’ requirements, preferences and internal states. The trend toward naturalistic environments has shown promise in terms of behavioral benefits for animals such as great apes, and there have been several studies of the effects of complex environments on captive apes. However, few recent investigations have objectively compared environmental preferences between two distinct enclosures. In this study, we assessed how ape space use varied within and across two very different environments: an indoor, hardscape enclosure and an indoor/outdoor, naturalistic enclosure. Within-facility tests were conducted by comparing data from behavioral observations of the apes’ position in the enclosures to measurements of the space and the availability of individual environmental elements. Between facility comparisons utilized electivity index calculations to assess both the degree of use for specific features and the degree to which these selections strengthened or weakened in the new facility. Both gorillas and chimpanzees showed significant structural preferences in the older, hardscape environment: positioning themselves by mesh barriers (chimpanzees: P = 0.005; gorillas: P < 0.001) and corners (P = 0.005; gorillas: P < 0.001) more than would be expected by random spatial utilization, and avoiding open spaces (chimpanzees: P = 0.005; gorillas: P < 0.001) not adjacent to any physical structure. A new, naturalistic enclosure was constructed using preference data from the previous facility. In the new facility, both species of ape substantially altered the way in which they chose to position themselves in the enclosure. Chimpanzees used most of the environmental elements at rates more similar to the proportions they were available. While gorilla’s preference corners was maintained in the new facility, preferences for doorways and mesh barriers disappeared. Comparing electivity indices facilitated an empirical comparison of space use preferences. Chimpanzees showed significant differences in how they used structural elements (P = 0.021), mesh barriers (P = 0.009) and corners (P = 0.016) in the new facility. Gorillas’ environmental selections were similarly altered in the new facility, as selections of areas adjacent to doorways (P = 0.003), glass barriers (P = 0.005), structural elements (P < 0.001), and mesh barriers (P = 0.012) were all significantly affected by the transfer. This approach is useful for understanding how captive animals utilize their enclosures and we advocate that electivity indices can be added to a growing list of tools to assess the effect of captive environments on animal welfare.


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