Blog: Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

Giraffe Project Update

I hope you haven’t forgotten about the giraffes, because I haven’t! Last time you heard from me we were talking about gathering the results of the 2015 study comparing giraffe activity and welfare between the summer and winter. I’m finally excited to share with you what we found!

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As you may recall, we were looking at the recumbency of giraffes, or how much they were lying down in the winter compared to summer. Recumbency has been used as an indicator of animal welfare in many animals such as cattle. In one study, cattle had varied recumbency levels based on the size of the enclosures. For the current study, we wanted to use this measure to see if there were any differences for our giraffes because their summer and winter enclosures are not exactly alike. 

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Our male giraffe, Potoka, wearing a “FitBit”, a customized bracelet with a data logger inside. 

With the help of our “Giraffe FitBit” (a data logger with a 3-axis accelerometer), we found that the giraffes were lying down in similar patterns for both seasons. What this suggests is that the giraffes were recumbent during similar hours in both the summer and the winter. This was the first time that this technology was used on giraffes, so we were excited to get these results. Although we need more information to find out why our giraffes were showing these recumbency patterns, we understand the importance of measuring recumbency and hope to use more “Giraffe FitBits” in the future!

As for behavior, we saw a lot of individual behavioral variation within our herd. Out of our four giraffes, two were more active in the summer than in the winter, and one was eating and ruminating more in the winter than in the summer. The individual differences observed throughout this study could mean that giraffes have personalities (if these differences are observed consistently over time and context). Using an animal’s personality to further understand animal welfare and management is becoming more common in zoos, and shows the importance of evaluating welfare at the individual level to meet each animal’s behavioral needs. 

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We observed many locomotive and foraging behaviors with our giraffe herd in this study.

We still have a lot to understand about the welfare implications of housing animals such as giraffe indoors during the winter, but we hope that this study can help guide future research. We are currently continuing this study with other zoos with similar conditions, so we are excited to learn more about this topic and how to better understand giraffe welfare.

-Catherine R.
Animal Behavior Research Assistant

Posted: 6/6/2017 3:18:44 PM by Oksana Schak


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