Does natural foraging niche influence captive animal health and welfare?

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Understanding the basis for differences in how species typically respond to captivity is fundamental for addressing welfare-relevant management problems created by captivity. This can be achieved by formal cross-species comparisons and testing hypotheses for how species-typical ecology and biology might affect their representatives’ typical captive response. My PhD examined potential foraging-niche related risk factors, i.e. the way a species uses its habitat and resources in relation to gaining food, for two different types of welfare-relevant management problem across three taxonomic groups. Using phylogenetic comparative methods to control for species non-independence due to shared ancestry, I examined relationships between hunting behaviour and route-tracing severity across zoo-housed Carnivora; and determined whether wild food-search or -handling behaviours predict the prevalence of feather-damaging behaviour and other stereotypic behaviour in pet Psittaciformes. Across zoo-housed Lemuriformes, foraging niche was just one of three aspects of species-typical biology assessed for potential predictive effects on a second type of management problem: susceptibility to weight gain. Taking an epidemiological approach, I also explored several individual-level potential demographic and environmental risk factors for susceptibility to weight gain across a subset of four Lemuriform species. Naturally relying on extensive food-handling was revealed as risk factor for feather-damaging behaviour across Psittaciformes, and adaptations to unpredictable wild food resources might be a risk factor for weight gain in Lemuriformes. Regarding the latter, epidemiological analyses revealed several demographic risk factors and one environmental one in male lemurs (being housed with only fixed climbing structures). Based on my results, I make practical recommendations to help address these specific management problems; describe fundamental, collection-management benefits this approach yields, by identifying types of species less-suited to captivity; and detail areas for future research, with the overall aim of improving wellbeing of thousands of animals across many species.
Date of Award29 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorMichael T Mendl (Supervisor), Innes C Cuthill (Supervisor) & Georgia Mason (Supervisor)

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