Using Keeper Questionnaires to Capture Zoo-Housed Tiger (Panthera tigris) Personality: Considerations for Animal Management

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Natalie Bullock, Charlotte James, Ellen Williams
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Individual personalities affect animal experiences of zoo environments, impact on an animal’s coping ability and have potential implications for welfare. Keeper assessments have been identified as a quick and reliable way of capturing data on personality in a range of species and have practical application in improving animal welfare on an individual level. Despite widespread recognition of the importance of animal personality within a zoo environment, there is a paucity of research into tiger personality and the potential impact of this on tiger experiences within zoos. This research investigated the personality of 34 tigers (19 Amur and 15 Sumatran) across 14 facilities in the UK using keeper ratings and identified changes keepers made in animal husbandry to support tiger welfare. Reliability across keepers (n = 49) was established for nine adjectives and a principal component analysis identified three personality components: ‘anxious’, ‘quiet’ and ‘sociable’. When subspecies were combined, there was no relationship between tiger scores on the personality components and age or sex of tigers (p > 0.05). Subspecies of tiger was not related to scores on the ‘quiet’ or ‘sociable’ components (p > 0.05). Sumatran tigers scored more highly than Amur tigers on the ‘anxious’ component (mean ± SD, Sumatran: 3.0 ± 1.7, Amur: 1.8 ± 0.6, p < 0.05). Analysis within subspecies found that male Amur tigers were more sociable than females (mean ± SD, males: 5.5 ± 0.707; females: 4.15 ± 0.55). Amur tiger age was also negatively correlated with scores on the sociable personality component (R = −0.742, p 0.05). Despite significant evolutionary differences between Amur and Sumatran tigers, there are no subspecies specific guidelines for zoo tigers. This research has highlighted the potential for these two subspecies to display personality differences and we advocate further research into this area. Specifically, we highlight a need to validate the relationship between tiger personality, management protocols and behavioural and physiological metrics of welfare. This will enable a fuller understanding of the impact of personality on zoo tiger experiences and will enable identification of evidence-based best practice guidelines.


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