Social group cohesion and reproductive success: a survey of captive cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) personality.
Talk given at the 2nd International Symposium on Zoo Animal Welfare, 5th-6th June 2013, Brookfield Zoo, Chicago, IL
The quantitative assessment of zoo animal personality has the potential to inform on the effects of personality on social group cohesion, individual reproductive success and pair compatibility. This is important for management decisions, particularly those relevant to welfare and breeding. Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are known to reproduce poorly in captivity, which is detrimental to conservation efforts and might indicate underlying welfare concerns. Previous research has confirmed that there are no differences in the reproductive physiology of wild and captive cheetahs, or in the physiology of breeders and non-breeders within the captive population. Thus, it is likely that the reasons for the cheetah’s poor reproductive performance in captivity are related to the behaviour and management of the species. This study is the first of its kind to investigate cheetah personality in the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) region. Cheetah personality questionnaires were distributed to 41 zoos and personality ratings were obtained for 93 cheetahs (59 males and 34 females). Cheetahs were rated on 20 behavioural traits by between one and seven keepers and the mean number of raters per cheetah was 3.18. The results of the questionnaire were compared to information from zoo breeding records and the International Cheetah Studbook, and a sub-sample of the questionnaire results were compared with direct observations of the behaviour of cheetahs housed in a variety of social groups. This paper presents the preliminary findings of the survey, investigating links between individual personality profiles and breeding success, whether there is evidence for pair compatibility in cheetahs, and the effects of cheetah personality on social group cohesion. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to captive cheetah management and breeding.
The effects of social group housing on the behaviour of captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)
Talk given at the BIAZA Research Symposium, 10th-11th July 2012, Newquay Zoo
The cheetah is known to reproduce poorly in captivity, which is detrimental to conservation efforts and might indicate underlying welfare concerns. One important aspect of captive cheetah management is social group housing. This study attempts to identify behavioural correlates of social group type so that recommendations can be made with a view to improving social housing arrangements and thus, potentially, breeding success in this endangered species. In the wild, adult females are solitary unless accompanied by cubs, whilst related males remain in stable groups, or coalitions, throughout their lifetime. Housing animals in appropriate social groups is a further effective way of improving animal welfare by providing animals the context in which to express wild-counterpart behaviour. Thus, knowledge of captive cheetah social interaction is crucial if zoos are to provide optimal conditions for welfare and breeding. This paper presents the preliminary findings of the effects of social housing on the behaviour of captive cheetahs. Behavioural observations were carried out on 27 cheetahs housed at ten UK zoos between May 2011 and Feburary 2012. Among group housed individuals, affiliative behaviours were more frequent than aggressive behaviours. Related males (natural grouping type) groomed each other more and were less aggressive than unrelated males (unnatural grouping type). No difference was observed in the rate of aggressive interactions between related and unrelated females (both unnatural grouping types). The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to cheetah breeding and management.
Keeper ratings of animal personality as a tool for improving the breeding, management and welfare of zoo animals
Poster presented at the Salford Postgraduate Annual Research Conference (SPARC), 8th-9th June 2011, University of Salford
The effect of individual differences on the behaviour and reproduction of zoo animals has long been recognised by zoo biologists, and people who work with animals often describe their different personalities. Yet it is only recently that the quantitative assessment of personality has been used to investigate some of the challenges faced in zoo animal breeding, management and welfare. Zoo animal personality is most commonly assessed through the use of observer ratings, where people who are familiar with the animals (zoo keepers, for example) are asked to rate them on various personality traits. Evidence from the growing body of research into zoo animal personality demonstrates that zoo keepers are able to reliably rate animal personality traits based on their knowledge and long term observations of the animals in their care. These ratings have validity as they are shown to independently correspond to measures of behaviour, reproductive success and biological factors, such as reproductive cyclicity in females and adrenal activity. Knowledge of personality can help to assess the reproductive failure of individuals, predict which animals will be compatible for breeding and provide an indication of how an animal will react to novel events such as transfers between collections and introduction into new social groups. Thus, a validated personality questionnaire is a valuable tool for zoo professionals. Keeper ratings of animal personality can be implemented into existing management practices and used to inform decisions on captive breeding, social group cohesion, welfare and conservation.
Coalition behaviour of related and unrelated captive male cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus soemmeringii)
Poster presented at the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) Easter Meeting, 26th-28th April 2011, Anglia Ruskin University
The cheetah is known to reproduce poorly in captivity and research suggests that the reasons for this are behavioural, rather than physiological. Appropriate social housing is important in enhancing reproductive success in captivity and this study examined the effect of changes in social housing on the behaviour of four male cheetahs: two siblings and two half siblings. In the wild, male cheetahs remain in stable groups, or coalitions, throughout their lifetime. Coalitions usually consist of littermates but non-related males may also join up with littermates to form coalitions of two or three individuals. During the study, the cheetahs were housed both in pairs and as a group of four, before one male was relocated. The remaining cheetahs were then housed in a trio. Indices of association were calculated for each cheetah pair, which showed that two coalitions existed before the relocated male departed, as there was a close association within the sibling pair and within the half sibling pair, but not between pairs. Following the relocation of one of the cheetahs, the remaining males appeared to form a coalition of three, as the indices of association between the non-related male and the siblings increased. Affiliative behaviours were frequently shown within pairs and little overt aggression was observed. The findings of this study indicate that the natural social groupings of male cheetahs can be replicated in captivity, which could potentially improve the chances of reproductive success when they are introduced to female cheetahs.