Tennant, K. S., Segura, V. D., Morris, M. C. et al. 2018. Achieving optimal welfare for the Nile hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) in North American zoos and aquariums. Behavioural Processes 156, 51-57.

Compared to other megafauna managed in zoos and aquariums, the current state of welfare for the Nile hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) is poorly understood. Complex behavior and physiological characteristics make hippos a difficult species to manage. Thus, hippos in managed care are currently at risk for a decreased state of welfare. In an effort to assess and improve conditions for this species, a survey was administered to North American institutions housing Nile hippos. This assessment utilized a multiple-choice format and consisted of questions relating to group structure, behavior, and exhibit design, allowing for the creation of cross-institutional, welfare-based analysis. Responses were gathered from 85.29% of the institutions to which the survey was distributed. Despite recommendations for maintaining groups of at least five individuals (Forthman, 1998), only 34.25% of hippos in North America were housed in groups of three or more. The survey also highlighted that 39.29% of institutions secure their hippos in holding areas overnight, despite their highly active nocturnal propensities. A better understanding of hippo behavior and environmental preferences can be used to inform wellness-oriented management practices to achieve a state of “optimal welfare”.

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