Student Summer Scholars Manuscripts


Effects of Enclosure Complexity on the Behavior of Lions, Tigers, and Lynx at the John Ball Zoo

First Advisor

Dr. Jodee Hunt


animal behavior, ethology, behavior, captivity, enrichment, lion, tiger, lynx, felidae


Animal Sciences | Zoology

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Zoos exhibit wild cat species (felidae) in enclosures that differ in size and complexity in comparison to their natural habitat. These differences influence animal activity and use of space, ultimately changing natural behavioral patterns. Despite the number of endangered animals kept in captivity at zoological institutions, there is little scientific understanding regarding the influence of enclosure space on animal behavior. We studied spatially explicit behavioral patterns in newly introduced Amur tigers and Canada lynx and established African lions at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our objectives were to master ZooMonitor, an application supporting the collection of spatially explicit data, and to explore patterns of behavior in relation to enclosure space and features in order to ascertain their effect. We quantified behavior in 30-minute bouts of all-occurrences interval sampling, alternating morning and afternoon observation sessions. Across 8 individuals, we completed more than 200 observation sessions. We calculated mean proportions of active and inactive interval behaviors across AM and PM sessions. These results demonstrated that time of day is a factor in expressed behavior and that individuals differ in their relative proportions of active and inactive behavior. Our analysis of heat maps showed that animals expressed particular active or inactive behaviors, such as sleeping or pacing, in specific locations. Individuals housed within the same enclosure differed in their use of space and features, suggesting individuality in animal responses to the captive environment. Additionally, our analysis of Amur tiger behavior patterns revealed that individuals appear to partition space when housed socially. Combined, these two analyses led us to identify key features associated with positive or more natural behaviors. Our study demonstrates that captive animals benefit from enclosure complexity, information that can be used by zoo personnel to improve animal welfare.