Studying Antillean manatees’(Trichechus manatus manatus) temperament in zoological parks: exploration of boldness, sociality and reactivity to humans

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Aviva Charles, Yann Henaut, Michel Saint Jalme, Baptiste Mulot, Alexis Lecu, Fabienne Delfour
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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Temperament, i.e. consistent inter-individual differences in behavior, has been documented in many species. Especially, boldness-shyness continuum is the ecologically relevant trait most frequently used to describe temperament among species. Reactions along the bold-shy axis demonstrate an organism’s ability to cope with environmental conditions and reflect its response to environmental stress. Our study investigated the existence of boldness-shyness continuum in 16 captive Antillean manatees (Trichechus manatus manatus) housed in 2 zoological parks. We first aimed to establish a valid methodology to measure boldness and shyness using behavioral tests. Additionally, our study explored 2 other potential temperament dimensions: sociality and reactivity to humans, and their association with boldness. Finally, since animals were kept under human care, we investigated human perception on manatees’ temperament. We conducted behavioral tests i.e. novelty tests involving novel objects, a novel sound, and an unfamiliar human. We recorded behaviors related to exploration as well as social interactions (i.e. physical proximity, social contacts) and we assessed manatees’ reactivity to humans through a participation score during hand-feeding sessions. Finally, we collected keepers’ subjective impression about individuals’ temperament through traits rating method. To our knowledge, this is the first paper that tested manatees’ reactions to different novel stimuli in order to determine their temperament. Our results first allowed us to identify the most relevant stimuli and variables to measure boldness and to classify individuals as bolder or shier. Individuals characterized as bolder displayed significantly more approach, longer approach and more contact toward stimuli than shier individuals. Moreover, boldness score was significantly associated with physical proximity with conspecifics, as well as with the participation score to hand-feeding sessions in one zoo. Finally, surveys completed by keepers were reliable and positive associations were found between rated items and behavioral observations. These findings support that as many species, manatees demonstrate boldness-shyness traits. More investigations on a larger sample size are needed to explore manatees’ temperament dimensions, and how these traits could modulate their interactions with their conspecifics and their environment. Studying manatees’ temperament could help improving the management and welfare of the species under human care. It could also facilitate their management in wildlife reserves by understanding manatees’ movements and evaluate the anthropogenic impact on wild populations.


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