The role of zoological institutions has greately changed over the past few decades, from manageries for pure entertainment, to now actively contributing to conservation via ex situ programmes (captive breediung and management of captive assurance populations), as well as educating the general public and funding in situ conservation.
Keeping wild animals in captivity can be quite challenging, as it is virtually impossible to replicate their ideal or natural conditions every time – be it because of a lack of resources or a lack of knowledge for a particular species. However, optimal welfare is crucial for the success of ex situ programmes so we must, therefore, do everything in our power to understand the animals’ needs as well as innovate in our ways to keep them in order to improve going forward.
For ungulate species – and even more so for ruminant species – diet is one of the most important aspects of their care in captivity and can greatly affect their health and welfare.
In captivity, abnormal or stereotypic behaviours may be an indicator for subpar conditions; in the case of wild ruminants, the most common abnormal behaviours, reported generally by zoos, are oral stereotypies such as licking or biting non-food objects or surfaces and tongue rolling. These behaviours are often linked to issues directly related to their diet in captivity being “too processed” and lacking manipulation opportunities for the animal, or nutritional contents.
These “symptoms” are often “treated”, across many taxa, by providing enrichment which aims to fulfill the animal’s needs, though it is not always fully effective. The reasons for this mixed effectiveness may be that there are other underlying issues not tackled by the enrichment causing distress or discomfort to the animal, or that the individual has simply developed a habit over time, which can be nearly impossible to completely eliminate at that point.
- Identify species-specific needs for the three different species of gazelle.
- Use behaviour as a tool for welfare assessment on this facility.
- Evaluate the impact of diet quality on behaviour and welfare of gazelles.
- Evaluate the effect of enrichment (browse) on behaviour and welfare of gazelles.