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Publication - Professor Innes Cuthill

    Does foraging niche predict poor welfare in Carnivora?


    Mellor, E, Mendl, M, Bandeli, M, Cuthill, I & Mason, G, 2017, ‘Does foraging niche predict poor welfare in Carnivora?’.


    In zoos, Carnivora species are charismatic and popular. Some typically fare well here, with few behavioral problems, living long lives and breeding readily. However, other species adjust less well, displaying signs of compromised welfare (e.g. poor reproduction, and stereotypic behaviors like route-tracing). One hypothesis is that restriction of hunting compromises captive welfare. In support, route-tracing is more common in Carnivora than other orders, and usually most intense prior to feeding. A comparative study also found Carnivora species with naturally long chase distances, and who are larger-bodied (predicting the hunting of relatively large prey), perform the most route-tracing in captivity (Kroshko et al., 2016 Anim. Behav.). Our study further explores relationships between foraging niche and carnivore welfare. We collated records of infant mortality, and updated a database of stereotypic behaviors in captive Carnivora (now with data on 2,337 animals from 57 species worldwide). Using phylogenetic generalized least square regressions to replicate Kroshko et al.’s previous result, we found chase distance to now be marginally non-significant (P=0.07, F=3.661, 4). Thus if foraging niche affects route-tracing, other aspects may be more important than chase distance (e.g., the hunting of relatively large prey). Investigations into this are ongoing. Ultimately we hope any results will be integrated into zoo collection planning and management, and help improve carnivore welfare via effective, informed enrichment and husbandry supporting the performance of highly motivated behaviors.

    Full details in the University publications repository