Study on Activity Pattern and Incidence of Stereotypic Behavior in Captive Tigers
This study from India looks at the housing of captive tigers at Nandankanan Zoological Park. It sought to evaluate the tigers’ welfare conditions by recording measurements of their stereotypical behaviors, such as pacing and repetitive circling. The researchers looked at how 19 captive tigers spent their time living in the zoo, specifically seeing when circling and pacing was most pronounced, and evaluating their findings. The study shows that, even in habitats which are considered “enriched” or made to seem more naturalistic, tigers still exhibit sterotypies that indicate they are living in poor welfare conditions.
“Big cats have long been a part of zoo animal collections,” begins a study from India on the welfare of tigers in captivity, “however, displaying these animals in way that protects their welfare can be a challenge. Besides the huge management cost in captivity, big cats often remain either inactive or engaged in frequent stereotypical locomotor patterns.” Though some zoos have evolved in recent years to seem more naturalistic, tigers are simply not meant to live in small enclosures, not matter how “natural” they may appear to the onlooker. The authors define stereotypic behaviors as “[the] repetitive, unvarying, and apparently functionless behavior patterns which captive animals may develop as a response to physical restraint, lack of stimulation, or inescapable fear or frustration. Independent evidence shows that they are associated with poor welfare.” To better understand how captive tigers in India were faring in terms of welfare, the researchers studied the activity patterns of 19 tigers at Nandankanan Zoological Park (NKZP), groups of whom were housed under different conditions.
The researchers found that “the housing facilities were not optimal as the tigers exhibited pacing as a large proportion of their daily activity pattern.” For the tigers in captivity, feeding was a particularly active time for pacing, and tigers also exhibited “increased restlessness, pacing, and aggression directed toward the animal keeper with the feeding trolley […] and [this] continued until the food was provided.” It is noted that, in other cases, “environmental enrichment has been shown to reduce stereotypic behavior” and that implementation at this particular park could help to reduce the incidence of such behavior. In this study the authors describe the vast range of tigers in the wild. When this is compared to the limited and unchanging environment of even the “best” zoos, it is clear that treating stereotypic behaviour of captive big cats is really just addressing a symptom, and not the root problem.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the paper’s conclusion is one that doesn’t get much emphasis. The authors note, almost off-handedly, that “although captive tigers at NKZP are provided with naturalistic enclosures, provision for behavioral enrichment may enhance the welfare of these endangered species. Further research will help us to understand the cause of stereotypic behavior and identify any effect of behavioral enrichment on it.” The emphasis for animal advocates is clear: despite some zoos’ best efforts to enrich the environments of captive animals, captivity itself presents a fundamental problem for the welfare of all animals kept in zoos. The information in this study, with statistics taken from within a zoo itself and presented in an objective manner, could be used to reinforce a strong anti-captivity argument.
The present study examined daytime behavior patterns of 19 captive tigers (Panthera tigris tigris) housed in Nandankanan Zoological Park, Odisha, India. Behavioral observations of 1254 hours were analyzed for target behaviors using instantaneous sampling and 1-minute sample periods. We found that these captive tigers spent about 23% of the daytime exhibiting stereotypic behavior, that is, pacing, with a biphasic peak at 10:00 to 11:00 AM and 16:00 to 17:00 PM. The incidence of stereotypic pacing behavior appears high, warranting further investigation of the cause of this stereotypic behavior and whether an effect of behavioral enrichment is required for a better understanding of welfare implications on the animals.