Animal Welfare in Mixed Species Exhibits

In Tropic World Asia, you might get lucky to see a white cheeked gibbon interacting with the orangutans, mirroring similarly playful interactions observed in the wild.

Brookfield Zoo excels in the science of multiple species exhibits. Including mixed species has historically been the norm for aviaries and aquariums, and as we increase our knowledge of how best to support animals at the individual- and species- level in these exhibits, we improve their care, not only in aviaries and aquariums, but also for groups of many different species of mammal. Recall your most recent walk through Tropic World: as you enter the South America room, first you see several primate species, which are sympatric in the wild, meaning that they share the same natural habitat both in South America and at Brookfield Zoo. In fact, you see an entire ecosystem of animals inhabiting their own ecological niches (that is, each animal has its own role in how it interacts with the environment and with others), including the anteaters sloshing through the water, the sloth relaxing in its nestbox, and birds chirping overhead, not to mention the foliage around the viewing area. This style of enclosure design is more naturalistic for the animals, and provides an interactive and dynamic environment for them.

Careful planning to determine compatible species (and individuals!), and thoughtful exhibit design, for example, creating exclusive spaces for individuals of one species to take a break from those of another, can reduce the risks of aggressive interactions or feeding competition. Additionally, positive reinforcement training, such as training animals to approach and stay at a pre-determined location identified by a symbol (such as an X marked on the ground, a “target”) during feeding time can supplement in support of this goal.

This salcata tortoise seeks shade under a giraffe.

Animals living in a multi-species exhibit must navigate the cognitive challenges associated with sharing space, such as how to find food and mates, seek shelter, and must make choices such as with whom to associate (within one’s own species, or with another!). For example, outside Australia House, you might observe a commensal relationship between the wallabies and the emus, in which one animal benefits from an interaction while the other is not affected by the interaction: the wallabies forage through the grass, occasionally flushing out insects that the emus are eager to gobble up. The emus benefit from the wallabies’ foraging, and the wallabies do not mind the emus spending time nearby. The choices and challenges of multi-species exhibits lead to benefits including increased individual welfare as animals fulfill their behavioral repertoire.

Is the emu waiting on the wallaby to help find an afternoon snack?
-Katie Hall

Posted: 10/26/2018 12:52:11 PM by Bryan Todd Oakley

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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