Measuring the Individual Differences of Giraffes

For those of you who are newer to reading our blog posts, you may not be familiar with the giraffe study conducted by the animal welfare research team and animal care staff in 2015. The aim of this research was to examine the differences, if any, in giraffe recumbency (how often they were lying down) in the summer compared to the winter since the giraffes are housed indoors during the colder, winter months.

Recumbency was measured because past research found that it could be a reliable indicator of good animal welfare in ruminant species, such as giraffes. Further, longer rates of recumbency or resting behavior may indicate that the animal is comfortable in their environment.

So how does one monitor recumbency in a giraffe in the first place? Well, our researchers had some help from a device they like to call a “Giraffe FitBit”. This device is a data logger with a 3-axis accelerometer which is able to log when a giraffe is lying down or standing up. With the data collected from these “FitBits”, the researchers found that the giraffes were lying down in similar patterns across both seasons. The results from the behavioral data also indicated individual variation among each giraffe’s behavior.

Potoka wearing the “Giraffe FitBit” on his front, right leg

Since we strive to continuously monitor the welfare of the animals here at Brookfield Zoo, we are beginning another study to examine other elements of giraffe behavior while indoors for the winter.

As stated in past blogs, behavioral monitoring of animals is an essential part of ensuring optimal welfare for an animal. Since the previous giraffe study indicated individual differences in the giraffes’ behavior, one of the focuses of our new research will be on each individual. In order to monitor each individual, examine their behavior, and account for their differences, we will be conducting daily focal observations on our four giraffes throughout the winter.

Potoka (left) and Arnieta (right) investigating their environmental enrichment

Along with examining individual differences, another aim of this research is to study the impact of timed feeders on giraffe behavior. For those of you who have visited recently, you may have noticed two new additions to the bamboo walls of the indoor giraffe exhibit, these are timed feeders. Each day, these feeders can be loaded by the animal care staff and will then distribute portions of the giraffes’ diet at random throughout the day. The feeders add an element of unpredictability to the giraffes’ daily routine and change up the way their food is given.

We will begin using the feeders around the middle of December, but if you would like to see other feeders in action before then, you can sometimes spot them in Tropic World and many other exhibits around the zoo!

-Jocelyn Woods, Behavioral Research Assistant, Chicago Zoological Society

Posted: 12/5/2019 8:28:30 PM by Sean Keeley

CZS & Brookfield Zoo

Since the opening of Brookfield Zoo in 1934, the Chicago Zoological Society has had an international reputation for taking a cutting-edge role in animal care and conservation of the natural world. Learn more about the animals, people, and research that make up CZS here at our blog.


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