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Concept: Zoo


Concerns about animal welfare increasingly shape people’s views about the acceptability of keeping animals for food production, biomedical research, and in zoos. The field of animal welfare science has developed over the past 50 years as a method of investigating these concerns via research that assesses how living in human-controlled environments influences the behavior, health and affective states of animals. Initially, animal welfare research focused on animals in agricultural settings, but the field has expanded to zoos because good animal welfare is essential to zoos' mission of promoting connections between animals and visitors and raising awareness of conservation issues. A particular challenge for zoos is ensuring good animal welfare for long-lived, highly social species like elephants. Our main goal in conducting an epidemiological study of African (Loxodonta africana) and Asian (Elephas maximus) elephant welfare in 68 accredited North American zoos was to understand the prevalence of welfare indicators in the population and determine the aspects of an elephant’s zoo environment, social life and management that are most important to prevent and reduce a variety of welfare problems. In this overview, we provide a summary of the findings of the nine papers in the collection titled: Epidemiological Investigations of North American Zoo Elephant Welfare with a focus on the life history, social, housing, and management factors found to be associated with particular aspects of elephant welfare, including the performance of abnormal behavior, foot and joint problems, recumbence, walking rates, and reproductive health issues. Social and management factors were found to be important for multiple indicators of welfare, while exhibit space was found to be less influential than expected. This body of work results from the largest prospective zoo-based animal welfare study conducted to date and sets in motion the process of using science-based welfare benchmarks to optimize care of zoo elephants.

Concepts: Elephant, Asian Elephant, Elephas, Elephantidae, Elephants, Animal welfare, African Bush Elephant, Zoo


While it is commonly believed that animals live longer in zoos than in the wild, this assumption has rarely been tested. We compared four survival metrics (longevity, baseline mortality, onset of senescence and rate of senescence) between both sexes of free-ranging and zoo populations of more than 50 mammal species. We found that mammals from zoo populations generally lived longer than their wild counterparts (84% of species). The effect was most notable in species with a faster pace of life (i.e. a short life span, high reproductive rate and high mortality in the wild) because zoos evidently offer protection against a number of relevant conditions like predation, intraspecific competition and diseases. Species with a slower pace of life (i.e. a long life span, low reproduction rate and low mortality in the wild) benefit less from captivity in terms of longevity; in such species, there is probably less potential for a reduction in mortality. These findings provide a first general explanation about the different magnitude of zoo environment benefits among mammalian species, and thereby highlight the effort that is needed to improve captive conditions for slow-living species that are particularly susceptible to extinction in the wild.

Concepts: Human, Biology, Organism, Life, Species, Mammal, Life expectancy, Zoo


The giant panda is an icon of conservation and survived a large-scale bamboo die off in the 1980s in China. Captive breeding programs have produced a large population in zoos and efforts continue to reintroduce those animals into the wild. However, we lack sufficient knowledge of their physiological ecology to determine requirements for survival now and in the face of climate change. We measured resting and active metabolic rates of giant pandas in order to determine if current bamboo resources were sufficient for adding additional animals to populations in natural reserves. Resting metabolic rates were somewhat below average for a panda sized mammal and active metabolic rates were in the normal range. Pandas do not have exceptionally low metabolic rates. Nevertheless, there is enough bamboo in natural reserves to support both natural populations and large numbers of reintroduced pandas. Bamboo will not be the limiting factor in successful reintroduction.

Concepts: Ecology, Giant Panda, Carnivora, Wildlife management, Conservation reliant species, Red Panda, Bamboo, Zoo


Despite ample focus on this endangered species, conservation planning for chimpanzees residing outside Africa has proven a challenge because of the lack of ancestry information. Here, we analysed the largest number of chimpanzee samples to date, examining microsatellites in >100 chimpanzees from the range of the species in Africa, and 20% of the European zoo population. We applied the knowledge about subspecies differentiation throughout equatorial Africa to assign origin to chimpanzees in the largest conservation management programme globally. A total of 63% of the genotyped chimpanzees from the European zoos could be assigned to one of the recognized subspecies. The majority being of West African origin (40%) will help consolidate the current breeding programme for this subspecies and the identification of individuals belonging to the two other subspecies so far found in European zoos can form the basis for breeding programmes for these. Individuals of various degree of mixed ancestry made up 37% of the genotyped European zoo population and thus highlight the need for appropriate management programmes guided by genetic analysis to preserve maximum genetic diversity and reduce hybridization among subspecies.Heredity advance online publication, 27 March 2013; doi:10.1038/hdy.2013.9.

Concepts: Human, Biodiversity, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Species, Extinction, Ex-situ conservation, Zoo


Stockmanship is a term used to describe the management of animals with a good stockperson someone who does this in a in a safe, effective, and low-stress manner for both the stock-keeper and animals involved. Although impacts of unfamiliar zoo visitors on animal behaviour have been extensively studied, the impact of stockmanship i.e familiar zoo keepers is a new area of research; which could reveal significant ramifications for zoo animal behaviour and welfare. It is likely that different relationships are formed dependant on the unique keeper-animal dyad (human-animal interaction, HAI). The aims of this study were to (1) investigate if unique keeper-animal dyads were formed in zoos, (2) determine whether keepers differed in their interactions towards animals regarding their attitude, animal knowledge and experience and (3) explore what factors affect keeper-animal dyads and ultimately influence animal behaviour and welfare. Eight black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), eleven Chapman’s zebra (Equus burchellii), and twelve Sulawesi crested black macaques (Macaca nigra) were studied in 6 zoos across the UK and USA. Subtle cues and commands directed by keepers towards animals were identified. The animals latency to respond and the respective behavioural response (cue-response) was recorded per keeper-animal dyad (n = 93). A questionnaire was constructed following a five-point Likert Scale design to record keeper demographic information and assess the job satisfaction of keepers, their attitude towards the animals and their perceived relationship with them. There was a significant difference in the animals' latency to appropriately respond after cues and commands from different keepers, indicating unique keeper-animal dyads were formed. Stockmanship style was also different between keepers; two main components contributed equally towards this: “attitude towards the animals” and “knowledge and experience of the animals”. In this novel study, data demonstrated unique dyads were formed between keepers and zoo animals, which influenced animal behaviour.

Concepts: Psychology, The Animals, Extinction, Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros, Black Rhinoceros, Zoo, Eastern Black Rhinoceros


Conservation breeding programmes have become an increasingly important tool to save endangered species, yet despite the allocation of significant resources, efforts to create self-sustaining populations have met with limited success. The iconic giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) embodies the struggles associated with ex situ species conservation. Here we show that behavioural mate preferences in giant pandas predict reproductive outcomes. Giant pandas paired with preferred partners have significantly higher copulation and birth rates. Reproductive rates increase further when both partners show mutual preference for one another. If managers were to incorporate mate preferences more fully into breeding management, the production of giant panda offspring for China’s reintroduction programme might be greatly expedited. When extended to the increasing numbers of species dependent on ex situ conservation breeding to avoid extinction, our findings highlight that mate preference and other aspects of informed behavioural management could make the difference between success and failure of these programmes.

Concepts: Endangered species, In-situ conservation, Giant Panda, Bear, Conservation reliant species, Ex-situ conservation, Ailuropoda, Zoo


Obesity has a negative effect on health and welfare of many species, and has been speculated to be a problem for zoo elephants. To address this concern, we assessed the body condition of 240 elephants housed in North American zoos based on a set of standardized photographs using a 5-point Body Condition Score index (1 = thinnest; 5 = fattest). A multi-variable regression analysis was then used to determine how demographic, management, housing, and social factors were associated with an elevated body condition score in 132 African (Loxodonta africana) and 108 Asian (Elephas maximus) elephants. The highest BCS of 5, suggestive of obesity, was observed in 34% of zoo elephants. In both species, the majority of elephants had elevated BCS, with 74% in the BCS 4 (40%) and 5 (34%) categories. Only 22% of elephants had BCS 3, and less than 5% of the population was assigned the lowest BCS categories (BCS 1 and 2). The strongest multi-variable model demonstrated that staff-directed walking exercise of 14 hours or more per week and highly unpredictable feeding schedules were associated with decreased risk of BCS 4 or 5, while increased diversity in feeding methods and being female was associated with increased risk of BCS 4 or 5. Our data suggest that high body condition is prevalent among North American zoo elephants, and management strategies that help prevent and mitigate obesity may lead to improvements in welfare of zoo elephants.

Concepts: North America, Elephant, Asian Elephant, Elephas, Elephants, African elephant, African Bush Elephant, Zoo


Millions of children visit zoos every year with parents or schools to encounter wildlife firsthand. Public conservation education is a requirement for membership in professional zoo associations. However, in recent years zoos have been criticized for failing to educate the public on conservation issues and related biological concepts, such as animal adaptation to habitats. I used matched pre- and postvisit mixed methods questionnaires to investigate the educational value of zoo visits for children aged 7-15 years. The questionnaires gathered qualitative data from these individuals, including zoo-related thoughts and an annotated drawing of a habitat. A content analysis of these qualitative data produced the quantitative data reported in this article. I evaluated the relative learning outcomes of educator-guided and unguided zoo visits at London Zoo, both in terms of learning about conservation biology (measured by annotated drawings) and changing attitudes toward wildlife conservation (measured using thought-listing data). Forty-one percent of educator-guided visits and 34% of unguided visits resulted in conservation biology-related learning. Negative changes in children’s understanding of animals and their habitats were more prevalent in unguided zoo visits. Overall, my results show the potential educational value of visiting zoos for children. However, they also suggest that zoos' standard unguided interpretive materials are insufficient for achieving the best outcomes for visiting children. These results support a theoretical model of conservation biology learning that frames conservation educators as toolmakers who develop conceptual resources to enhance children’s understanding of science. Evaluación del Aprendizaje de Biología de la Conservación por Niños en el Zoológico Jensen.

Concepts: Species, Ecology, Education, Natural resource, Extinction, Ex-situ conservation, Habitat fragmentation, Zoo


Males will alter their mating behavior to cope with the presence of their competitors. Even exposure to odors from potential competitors can greatly increase male ejaculate expenditure in a variety of animals including insects, fishes, birds and rodents. Major efforts have been made to examine males' plastic responses to sperm competition and its fitness benefits. However, the effects of competitor absence on male’s sexual motivation and behaviors remain unclear, which has been proposed to be one of the causes for the poor sexual performance of some captive mammals. This study revealed that sexual motivation can be greatly enhanced in captive male giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) by exposure to chemosensory cues from either one or three conspecifics males. It had been shown that potential rivals' odors increased males' chemosensory investigation behavior, as well as their observing, following and sniffing behaviors towards estrous females. Behaviors changed regardless of the number of rivals (one or three). Our results demonstrate the effects of potential competition on male giant pandas' sexual motivation and behavioral coping strategy. We anticipate that our research will provide a fresh insight into the mechanisms underlying poor sexual performance in male captive mammals, and valuable information for the practical management and ex situ conservation of endangered species.

Concepts: Human, Competition, Endangered species, Behavior, Human behavior, In-situ conservation, Giant Panda, Zoo


The importance of today’s zoological gardens as the so-called “Noah’s Ark” grows as the natural habitat of many species quickly diminishes. Their potential to shelter a large amount of individuals from many species gives us the opportunity to reintroduce a species that disappeared in nature. However, the selection of animals to be kept in zoos worldwide is highly selective and depends on human decisions driven by both ecological criteria such as population size or vulnerability and audience-driven criteria such as aesthetic preferences. Thus we focused our study on the most commonly kept and bred animal class, the mammals, and we asked which factors affect various aspects of the mammalian collection of zoos. We analyzed the presence/absence, population size, and frequency per species of each of the 123 mammalian families kept in the worldwide zoo collection. Our aim was to explain these data using the human-perceived attractiveness of mammalian families, their body weight, relative brain size and species richness of the family. In agreement with various previous studies, we found that the body size and the attractiveness of mammals significantly affect all studied components of the mammalian collection of zoos. There is a higher probability of the large and attractive families to be kept. Once kept, these animals are presented in larger numbers in more zoos. On the contrary, the relative mean brain size only affects the primary selection whether to keep the family or not. It does not affect the zoo population size or the number of zoos that keep the family.

Concepts: Biology, Species, Animal, Mammal, Zoology, Brain size, Zoo, Noah's Ark