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Animal Defenders International

The science on suffering: Husbandry and close confinement (6)

Posted: 17 May 2006

3.3 Carnivores

The scientific literature show that carnivores, in particular members of the cat family and bears, suffer as a result of captivity. This evidence has mainly been gathered in zoo studies, where the animals have a permanent residence. In most modern zoos, efforts are now made to create a habitat as close to the animals’ natural environment as possible.
However due to the travelling nature of circuses, it is impossible to provide the animals with these things, therefore one can assume that any negative effects of captivity seen in zoos will be worse in the circus environment.

A study of captive cheetahs (Wells, et al., 2004) found that:

  • Captive cheetahs suffer diseases that do not occur in their wild counterparts. These diseases are exacerbated after movement suggesting an environmental effect .
  • The study showed that where the animals were moved between facilities for breeding programs showed that in eight out of 15 animals there was a post-movement increase in corticoid concentration. Six animals showed a prolonged stress response. Of the seven animals that did not have an increase in corticoid concentration, four animals had a single peak immediately after movement. The authors conclude that moving to different environments causes a stress response in cheetahs.
  • Corticoid responses were found to increase if an animal is moved on-exhibit (on display to public viewing) and decrease if moved off-exhibit (away from public viewing). Thus indicating a negative welfare response to exposure to the general public (Wells et al., 2004).

The results of this study on cheetahs is not surprising considering that cheetahs in the wild are solitary, have large home ranges and avoid human contact.

Carnivores frequently show stereotypic behaviours such as pacing when in captivity. A study by Lyons et al. (1997) looked at 9 species of felids in 11 different enclosures at Edinburgh Zoo. The study found that “stereotypic pacing was recorded at various levels in 15 out of 19 cats (79%), the levels varying between 1% and 32% of scans”. The complexity of the animals’ enclosure is thought to play a big role in the incidences of such behaviours.

A study on leopard cats (Carlstead et al., 1993), found that translocating cats to novel cages provokes an initial increase in adrenocortical activity and increased hiding behaviour, and the cats failed to adapt to a new environment.

Captive clouded leopards show a variety of signs that could be considered indicative of distress and/or poor well being; a high frequency of stereotypic behaviours, apathy, self mutilation (e.g. fur plucking, tail chewing), and marked intersexual aggression (i.e. mate injury and mate killing). They also show a record of poor breeding success and health problems (Wielebnowski et al., 2002).

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