Contentedly caged? Researching the behavior of animals in captivity

Meerkat. Taken in Victoria, Australia in Febru...
Meerkats are contented zoo dwellers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human beings have a long history of living in close proximity to other animals. Domesticated cats and dogs are our companions, horses ease the burden of our work, and numerous other species end up on our dinner table. Beyond domestication, our fascination with animals has seen millions of animals globally placed in zoos, aquariums and wildlife sanctuaries – mostly to satisfy our curiosity, but increasingly for captive breeding programs to bolster wild populations in decline.

Keeping animals captive — for whatever purpose — requires that animals feel secure and content. But how do animal keepers ensure the welfare of their charges, whether on the farm or in the zoo? What are we still learning about animals, and how they behave and cope in the captive setting?

Just before the Christmas break last year, we recorded an episode of Up Close where I interviewed two PhD students who are exploring animal behaviour and welfare at the Animal Welfare Science Centre, a joint centre of the University of Melbourne, Ohio State University and the Victorian Department of Primary Industries.

Sally Sherwen’s research is looking at the behaviour of a variety of zoo animals and how they respond to zoo visitors. Megan Verdon is investigating the behaviour of domesticated pigs kept in enclosures.

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