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Commonly Misinterpreted Captive Animal Behaviors

It’s safe to assume that at one point or another, each of us has experienced seeing animals in captivity. Having the opportunity to see wild animals like tigers, elephants and gorillas up close is an exhilarating prospect. Sadly, anyone who as ever set foot inside an establishment housing captive wild animals has also likely witnessed unnatural stereotypic behaviors. These include:

  • Pacing

  • Bar biting
  • Head bobbing, swaying, neck twisting
  • Regurgitation
  • Self Mutilation, Overgrooming

Many patrons are amused, feeling as though the animals are following them around the exhibit. In some cases, they think the animals are “dancing.” The truth is these are only a few of the many stereotypic behaviors exhibited by captive animals. These abnormal behaviors describe “zoochosis,” the psychological impact captivity has on wild animals.

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According to one study, the importance of behavior is as significant as the internal organs essential to one’s life. Animals that display normal behaviors allow for homeostasis, which is needed to ensure internal conditions are maintained and stable. When a captive animal is not capable of modifying or controlling its environment, animals begin to cope by exhibiting stereotypic behavior. Scientists believe this abnormal behavior releases endorphins and allows for momentary relief.

While many renowned facilities pour millions of dollars into programs designed to keep the animals “happy,” it’s clear that stereotypic behaviors are representative of poor welfare in captivity. No habitat can rival the environment animals would have in the wild; albeit the animals born in zoos and other facilities are often born through breeding programs, the number of animals suffering from these stereotypic behaviors only further corroborates that these animals are inherently wild and suffer in captivity.

Royal_White_Bengal_Tiger_in_cage_at_Cougar_Mountain_Zoological_Park

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Cat of the month

Borneo Bay Cat (Pardofelis Badia)

One of the world’s least-known and most endangered wild cats, the bay cat, has been photographed by Panthera grantees Jedediah Brodie (Universiti Malaysia Sabah/ University of British Columbia) and Anthony Giordano (S.P.E.C.I.E.S/Texas Tech University). Their photograph is the first record of this very elusive cat in the Borneo highlands, at 1460 meters (approximately 4,800 feet).

The records add to our very limited knowledge of the species, which was photographed alive for the first time only in 1998 and where most previous records are from dense lowland forest under 800 meters (approximately 2,600 feet).

Borneo’s bay cat is so elusive that it took over a century before researchers got a chance to study a live one in detail. Covered in striking, rust-red fur with white under the tail and face stripes, this cat was officially named in 1874 on the basis of a skull and torn skin sent to England by the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Naturalists didn’t have a chance to study a live one until a bay cat was captured in 1992, and the cat remains so difficult to find that researchers know very little about how this secretive cat actually lives. The fact that the cat is so difficult to find is all the more frustrating because conservationists list the felid as endangered. The deforestation of Borneo may wipe out the bay cat before scientists get a chance to find out more about it.

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