Assessing and managing animal welfare at Australian zoos: A case study of the Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) in Perth, WA

Gillian Mangan, SIT Graduate Institute - Study Abroad

Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology


Animal welfare at zoos has been a concern since the creation of such collections in the 1800s. There is conflict in what good animal welfare looks like, as well as how to properly measure it. Although achieving “natural” behaviors is often the target of captive animal management, the presence of such behaviors, often done in suboptimal conditions, might not be the best indication of animal welfare. Instead, increasing the animal’s ability to cope with the environment has become the focus of many institution’s plans to improve welfare. Behavioral observations are often used to measure these standards of living due to the non-invasive nature of method. The results of these observations can be used to compare animal well-being, which is crucial to zoos for both social and economic reasons.

An ethogram was used over two weeks at Perth Zoo in Western Australia to collect data on the behaviors of two male spotted hyenas. The aim was to develop a baseline of how the hyenas behaved, as well as how they interacted with each other. It was found that the hyenas exhibited the hierarchal nature of the species, with differences in the sleeping and monitoring patterns of the two animals. Some indications of stress such as disrupted sleep and pacing were noted, which possibly leaves room for management plans to reduce these behaviors. Interactions between the hyenas were mostly limited to chasing, which is an improvement from past incidents. These results also show that animal welfare at institutions such as zoos is often difficult to measure and requires constant revision of management plans, as the motivation behind a behavior can often be unclear.