Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

The science on suffering: Inappropriate social groupings and isolation (2)

Posted: 17 May 2006

4.2 Forced Proximity with other Animals

In the wild tigers are solitary animals, coming together only for mating. A study on circus tigers describes how circuses often transport tigers in groups and that severe fights can break out (Nevill & Friend, 2003). The paper describes how ‘major movement’ in the back of the truck could be felt by the driver in the cab indicating fighting. Whenever this happened, the method of stopping the fight was ‘sudden application of the brakes’ which would cause the fight to cease until the truck could be stopped to separate the tigers. This is clearly an unacceptable situation.

Travelling circuses frequently put different species of large cats together and have even created a lion-tiger cross, calling it a “liger”. However putting these species together can cause serious aggression, as demonstrated by the attack by a male tiger on a lioness at Circus Harlequin, mentioned earlier.

Studies of captive ungulate species have shown that increased social density may produce competition for resources, especially food, which could then increase the likelihood of stereotypic licking (Bashaw et al., 2001).

4.3 Inappropriate Groupings with other Species

As well as suffering from the effects of isolation, animals also suffer when forced to live in close proximity to another species, as is often the case in circuses. The suffering is further increased when the other species is a natural predator or prey of the animal in question; as documented in ADI observations.

When next to cattle or pigs, farmed red deer stayed as far as possible from them, and were generally more active, showed more agonistic interactions and had elevated plasma cortisol concentrations. Some of the deer had been previously familiarised with the presence of cattle but the results of the study showed that these more ‘experienced’ animals did not habituate to the experience of the unusual grouping and there was even evidence to suggest that previous exposure to cattle made red deer more aversive to them (Abeyesinghe et al., 1997).

Like other ungulates, deer have evolved a naturally exaggerated flight distance as an adaptation for escape from predators and in a confinement situation where they are housed close to other species, they cannot prevent these other animals from entering their ‘flight zone’.

Obviously ruminants and omnivores like pigs do not pose a predatory threat to deer, but they may pose other threats: Firstly, the fact that they are not familiar means that they will be perceived as a potential threat, secondly other animals may pose a threat or competition over resources and thirdly different species of animal have evolved specialised means of communicating with one another and the unpredictability of noise from another species and an inability to read each others signals may cause problems in mixed species groups (Abeyesinghe et al., 1997).

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