Smith, K. D., Snider, R. J., Dembiec, D. P. et al. 2023. Effects of a modern exhibit design on captive tiger welfare. Zoo Biology 42(3), 371–382.

Offering captive animals larger, more complex spaces are thought to benefit their welfare. To this end, some zoos use trail systems linked to several enclosures. Since little is known about the effects of such designs on the welfare of captive carnivores specifically, we timed the behaviors exhibited by four tigers (Panthera tigris [Linnaeus]) given access to three exhibit configurations: one exhibit only (E, baseline); one exhibit and approximately 19 m2 of trail (ET); and two exhibits connected by approximately 46 m2 of trail (E2T). Behaviors were recorded during 1-h AM, Noon, and PM periods in Phase I (2017), and 2-h AM and PM periods in Phase II (2018). Percentages of behavior occurrence were analyzed using generalized linear mixed models (GLMM), with treatment and time of day as fixed effects. Tigers were least active at noon (Phase I), while active behaviors were prevalent during mornings and afternoons in both Phases. In Phase II (E2T vs. E), active and exploratory behaviors such as sniffing increased, while pacing and inactivity decreased (all p ≤ .001). We also examined nocturnal tiger movement using infrared motion-activated cameras. In parallel with diurnal observations, tiger activity in E2T greatly exceeded that in E. Nocturnal movement was most pronounced from 1800 to 2200 and least frequent from 0100 to 0400, closely matching patterns observed in the wild. Results indicate that offering tigers voluntary access to larger and more complex spaces stimulates natural behaviors and decreases stereotypical behaviors.

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