Hamilton, J., Fuller, G., Allard, S. 2020. Evaluation of the impact of behavioral opportunities on four zoo-housed aardvarks (Orycteropus afer). Animals 10(8), 1433.
Evaluations of enrichment are critical to determine if an enrichment program is meeting stated goals. However, nocturnal species can present a challenge if their active periods do not align with caretakers’ schedules. To evaluate enrichment for four aardvarks housed with a natural light cycle, we provided seven different enrichment items aimed at fulfilling two behavioral goals: exploring and foraging. We wanted to understand how the aardvarks used enrichment, if enrichment promoted the defined goals, and how enrichment that achieves its goals affects welfare indicators, including rates of pacing and social behaviors, behavioral diversity, and fecal glucocorticoid metabolites. Twenty-minute observations from video were performed three times a night for a total of 224 observed hours. We found significant differences in how the aardvarks used items from the two enrichment goals throughout the night, with foraging enrichment used more than exploring at first and exploring enrichment used more later. We found that items promoted their defined goals, and aardvarks showed no evidence of habituation throughout the eight-week study. The impact on selected welfare indicators provided evidence of potentially positive changes, including increased affiliative and decreased agonistic interactions accompanying increases in goal behaviors. These results contribute to the current knowledge available on the impact of goal-directed behavioral opportunities on zoo animal welfare.