Walsh, Z. C., Olson, H., Clendening, M. et al. 2022. Social behavior deficiencies in captive American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens 3(1), 131–146.

Understanding how the behavior of captive American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) congregations compares to wild congregations is essential to assessing the welfare of alligators in captivity. Wild alligator congregations perform complex social behaviors, but it is unknown if such behaviors occur in captive congregations as frequently. We observed the behaviors of a captive and wild congregation of American alligators in Florida, USA in January 2021. Social behaviors were, on average, 827% more frequent in the wild congregation than the captive, and the wild congregation had a richer repertoire of social behaviors, with growling and HOTA (head oblique tail arched) behaviors being particularly common. High walking, a nonsocial behavior, dominated the behavioral repertoire of the captive congregation (94% of behaviors, excluding feeding) and may be a stereotypy that can be used as an indicator of welfare. Both congregations experienced human disturbance and displayed flushing as a species-specific defense reaction. Captive environments differ from the wild with respect to size, structure, stocking density, resource availability, and human presence. These differences translate into behavioral differences between wild and captive congregations. We identified important behavioral differences between wild and captive alligator congregations that can serve as a platform for more detailed investigations of alligator welfare in captivity.