Measuring the Behavioral Diversity of Animals at Brookfield Zoo

Chicago Zoological Society and the Brookfield Zoo strive for continuous improvement in the care and welfare of our animals.

Historically, negative indicators of welfare (e.g., adrenal activity) were used to determine an individual animal’s welfare state. However, the animals at the Brookfield Zoo receive the highest level of care including dynamic management practices involving environmental enrichment, animal training for them to participate in their own health care, a nutrition program, and quality habitats.

But, how do we know that when we make changes to our animal management practices we improve the welfare of an animal that is already doing really well? The absence of negative indicators of welfare doesn’t demonstrate that an individual animal is thriving. One potential solution is the idea of measuring the behavioral diversity of an animal.

If an animal has high behavioral diversity, we are likely to meet the behavioral needs of the animal. Animals within zoos and aquariums are still motivated to perform certain behaviors based on their natural history. For example, male lions in zoos will often scent mark their “territory,” even though there is no other lion pride nearby.

Recent research also suggests that following animal management activities that are thought to be positive for animal welfare, behavioral diversity is typically higher. In addition, research has demonstrated an inverse relationship between behavioral diversity and adrenal activity, which can be an indicator of stress.

Scientists at the Brookfield Zoo are using behavioral diversity to examine its potential use as a positive indicator of welfare. We want to make sure that every individual animal at the zoo has the opportunity to thrive. If you would like to learn more, a new article titled  "Behavioral Diversity as a Potential Indicator of Positive Animal Welfare" details the potential use of behavioral diversity as a positive indicator of animal welfare.

Dr. Lance Miller
Vice President of Conservation Science and Animal Welfare Research
Published August 11, 2020