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Animal Defenders International

The science on suffering: Inappropriate social groupings and isolation (3)

Posted: 17 May 2006

4.4 Close Proximity of Predator and Prey Species

Prey species show specific adaptations that allow recognition, avoidance and defence against predators (Apfelbach et al., 2005). However in the restrictions of a travelling circus environment, animals such as horses, other ungulates and smaller animals are frequently exposed to the presence of one or more predator species, such as dogs, tigers, lions, bears etc. Predator species may also become stressed and frustrated by the presence of prey species that they are unable to hunt, or of competitors which they cannot compete with.

  • Studies on mammalian changes in behaviour when exposed to the presence of a predator, have shown responses such as, anxiety-like behaviour and long lasting neural circuit changes in the brain (Adamec et al., 2005).
  • For many mammalian species an adaptation for predator avoidance is sensitivity towards predator-derived odours (Apfelbach, 2005). A recent review of the latest research on the effect of predator odours in mammalian prey species describes how pregnant female rodents exposed to predator odours may give birth to smaller litters and exposure to such odours in early life can hinder normal development (Apfelbach et al., 2005). This paper documents a long list of mammalian species where avoidance of predator odours has been studied and documented, including, rodents, possums and sheep.
  • Behavioural effects shown in animals exposed to predator odours include, inhibition of activity, suppression of non-defensive behaviours such as foraging, feeding and grooming and shifts to habitats or secure locations where such odours are not present (Apfelbach et al., 2005).
  • Even closely related animals such as different species of exotic cats can find the presence of the other species aversive. A zoo study investigating the low reproductive success rate of small exotic cats in captivity pointed out that most of these cats are solitary in nature, yet in captivity are routinely housed in pairs and managed in close proximity both to other species of small cats and larger cats which they may perceive as potential predators (Mellen, 1991) or competing for resources and territory. Cats mainly work to avoid contact with other cats and show abnormal and stress behaviours when their core territory is encroached upon. This was cited as one of the potential factors to explain the lack of breeding success with this species in captivity.

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