Fernandez, E. J. 2021. Appetitive search behaviors and stereotypies in polar bears (Ursus maritimus). Behavioural Processes 182, 104299.
Stereotypies in captive animals have been defined as repetitive, largely invariant patterns of behavior that serve no obvious goal or function. Stereotypies are commonly attributed to boredom or stress and are typically treated by enriching captivity with distracting, appealing stimuli. These stimuli often include food presented at times other than regular feedings, and as a result, engage species-typical foraging behaviors that reduce stereotypies. The present work on captive polar bears is based on the view that stereotypies are due in part to inadequate support for the expression of species-typical foraging “loops” and can be reduced by increasing support for a more complete expression of foraging responses. We tested this view through 4 experiments that presented small samples of food and scents on several schedules, examining their effects prior to, during, and after the schedule. Most schedules reduced stereotypies and increased general activity prior to and during the schedule. These data support three conclusions: (1) individual stereotypies appear related to incomplete, repeating loops of foraging behavior; (2) providing stimuli supporting a more complete sequence of search behaviors reduces stereotypies and increases non-stereotypic activity; and (3) a descriptive, analytic approach based on how foraging behaviors relate to the captive feeding procedures can facilitate understanding of stereotypies and suggest methods to reduce them.