Veasey, J. S. 2020. Can zoos ever be big enough for large wild animals? A review using an expert panel assessment of the psychological priorities of the Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) as a model species. Animals 10(9), 1536.
The ecology of large, wide-ranging carnivores appears to make them vulnerable to conservation challenges in the wild and welfare challenges in captivity. This poses an ethical dilemma for the zoo community and supports the case that there is a need to reconsider prevailing management paradigms for these species in captivity. Whilst the welfare challenges wide ranging carnivores face have been attributed to reduced ranging opportunities associated with the decreased size of captive habitats, attempts to augment wild carnivore welfare in captivity typically focus on behaviours linked to hunting. Thus far, this has yet to result in the systematic elimination of signs of compromised welfare amongst captive carnivores. Here an assessment is carried out to identify the likely welfare priorities for Amur tigers, which, as one of the widest ranging terrestrial carnivores, serves as an excellent exemplar for species experiencing extreme compression of their ranging opportunities in captivity. These priorities are then used to consider novel strategies to address the welfare challenges associated with existing management paradigms, and in particular, attempt to overcome the issue of restricted space. The insights generated here have wider implications for other species experiencing substantive habitat compression in captivity. It is proposed here that the impact of habitat compression on captive carnivore welfare may not be a consequence of the reduction in habitat size per se, but rather the reduction in cognitive opportunities that likely covary with size, and that this should inform strategies to augment welfare.