Goswami, S., Kumari Patel, S., Kadivar, R. et al. 2021. Effects of a combined enrichment intervention on the behavioural and physiological welfare of captive Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica). Applied Animal Behaviour Science 236, 105222.
The endangered Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) is currently distributed as a single wild population of 670 individuals and ∼400 captive animals globally. Although the captive lions are major hope for the species’ long-term conservation through repatriation, their welfare status and management practises need research attention. To this end, we tested the efficacy of feeding, sensory and manipulable enrichment interventions on the welfare of Asiatic lions at the conservation breeding centre of Sakkarbaug Zoological Garden, Gujarat. We adopted a holistic approach by measuring physiological and behavioural responses of 35 captive Asiatic lions, divided into control (N = 16) and test (N = 19) groups. The test subjects approached feeding devices first and used manipulable devices for longer duration. Manipulable devices were used homogenously with two significant time peaks, but sensory devices were used sporadically throughout the day with no discernible peak usage. The control subjects remained unchanged in all welfare parameters compared to their pre-treatment levels. However, post-enrichment behavioural assessments showed higher behaviour diversity (95 % increase from the baseline period), reduced enclosure zone bias (40.25 % reduction) and aberrant repetitive behaviours (80.68 %) in test samples. Similarly, faecal corticosterone measures showed lower stress levels in test samples (58 % decrease), confirming significant improvement in all welfare indices than control groups. These results have universal applicability to assess welfare indices of other captive species in Indian zoos. We hope that the results will encourage zoo managers and regulatory agencies to improve animal welfare practices.