Captive tigers: Natural enclosures for natural behaviours

Biolatti, C., Modesto, P., Dezzutto, D., Pera, F., Tarantola, M., Gennero, M. S., & Acutis, P. L. (2016). Behavioural analysis of captive tigers (Panthera tigris): A water pool makes the difference. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 174, 173-180.

This study discusses the welfare of captive tigers and the degree to which enclosures impact on the behaviours they display. Researchers recorded evidence of diminished and enhanced welfare of tigers at four zoos, with this paper focussing on the factors that allowed the animals to display more natural behaviours, which visitors are now becoming more aware and expecting of.

Over a year, researchers visited four zoological gardens five times. They observed behaviours displayed by each of the attractions’ captive tigers, whilst also listing any variables that may have initiated these displays, such as tree logs, elevated platforms and water pools. All but one of the tigers observed were paired, with all being captive born adults.

The difference a clean pool makes

Once the results had been analysed, it was found that the most common behaviours that the tigers displayed revolved around sleeping, resting and walking, with these being listed as natural behaviours. Pacing, an act signifying diminished welfare, was only seen to be displayed 0.43% of the recorded time, with no signs of aggression with physical contact recorded at all.

The main finding of this study is the observation that clean water pools were the only variable significantly associated with indicators of enhanced welfare. Pools that were poorly-maintained were used less regularly by the tigers, whereas those that were well-kept encouraged the natural behaviour of ‘immersion’, and have already been proven to increase exploratory behaviours and reduce pacing.

Although this study does well to show the effects that features in enclosures have on the welfare of captive tigers, the sample observed does unfortunately pose limitations due to its size. However, by discovering the impact that water pools have on captive tigers, the paper does conclude that any costs or commitments towards installing and maintaining them should be outweighed by the benefits, both in terms of the animals’ welfare, as well as the continued attendance of visitors.

World Animal Protection’s view

We believe that any animal kept in captivity should be provided with an enclosure that helps promote natural behaviours. People are becoming more concerned with animal welfare when visiting tourist attractions such as zoos. If features such as water pools help increase the welfare of captive tigers, then it is in the best interest of zoos to be aware of this, highlighting the importance of research such as this.