The Integrated Effect of Environmental Conditions and Human Presence on the Behaviour of a Pair of Zoo-Housed Asian Small-Clawed Otters

Publication Type:
Electronic Article
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Francesca Bandoli, Jenny Mace, Andrew Knight
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Zoos and aquaria have the ethical responsibility to provide animals under their care with conditions that promote good welfare. This study evaluated the combined influence of human presence and environmental factors on the behaviour of zoo-housed Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinereus). Data collection was conducted on a pair hosted at Pistoia Zoo (Italy). Data were collected from July to September 2020 (over 14 days). We video-recorded the otters’ behaviours, using the continuous focal animal sampling, obtaining 42 h of observation per subject. The otters displayed a wide array of species-specific behaviours. Compared to previous captive studies, the subjects engaged less in locomotion, food-related and affiliative behaviours, and more in vigilance. Human–animal interactions were limited, and mostly elicited neutral or positive responses, except for begging behaviours performed towards caregivers. Time of day and animal identity were the main significant predictors for behaviours. No effects of visitor presence or background noise were detected. Nonetheless, increasing enrichment use could stimulate food-related behaviours, and reduce vigilance and begging. This study confirms the importance of applying an integrated approach to analyse the complexity of otters’ experiences, and provides insights to guide husbandry improvements.


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