Zookeeper Course Teaches about Animals in Captivity
The primary health care of any animal in captivity as taught by our zookeeper course is the responsibility of the keeper or keepers in charge of that animal.
zookeepers are specialists of given species or groups of animals. For
example, a keeper might be a specialist in the care of chimpanzees
whilst another keeper with a specialist for the hoof-stock. Of greatest
importance in this primary care, is to know the difference between
normal behaviour to that which is not normal or “usual” for a particular
animal. A keeper who knows his or her animals, as individuals, is a
good keeper and will know immediately when an individual is unwell.
An example may be a single zebra who has separated himself or herself from the rest of the herd or, a primate who has remained in their nest or rest area and not mixed with the rest of the group.
Unlike the usual procedure for domestic animal such as a cat or dog, a zoo captive is notable to be examined in detail daily. The reason for this is that attempting to capture each animal is not feasible and neither is it conducive to animal welfare. Zoo animals are still essentially wild animals and very few species are amenable to daily handling or close human attention.
The exception is the elephant. Elephants are highly intelligent, social animals that will accept daily attention from humans. They can be checked for obvious signs of ill health and injury because they are (usually) hosed and scrubbed daily. During the process, a carer can give a visual examination of the whole body. Given that zoos have a range of exotic species signs of ill health are many and varied. Birds demonstrate different behaviours when ill compared to carnivores and knowing these different signs of illness is vital.
Stress is a condition where physiological and psychological norms are challenged. Stress can be caused by illness itself for example, a fever is a stressful experience as is a stomach ache. Unacceptable environmental conditions cause stress where stimuli and a lack of control over one’s own life, cause psychological disturbance. Constant or frequent exposure to fear causes stress as does over-crowding, food and water shortage and bullying.
Behavioural signs of stress should be apparent and a warning that physical health could be compromised as well as the obvious psychological ill health. Captive Great Apes are a classic example of how captivity can affect a non-human animal. Not all diseases are noticeable from an external examination and specialist veterinary care for zoo animals has to consider numerous reasons for ill health.
Each zoo has its own animal health care system although there are similarities between zoos. Only small zoos do not have a specialist medical centre for their animals; they rely on a local veterinary surgeon (or surgeons) who has had to become familiar with exotic zoo animals. For particular issues, they must call upon visiting veterinary specialists.
Many zoos and related establishments have, as a part of their ethos, a programme of monitoring animal welfare across the world. Some organisations specialise in one Order of animals e.g. Primates.
Behaviour is the way in which an organism responds, reacts, moves and interacts within any situation. The natural behaviour repertoire seen in wild animals can be changed by the situation of captivity.
Behaviour is a product of both genetic and environmental pressures and certain aspects of the environment are known to shape the behavioural repertoires of all species.
Environmental factors that can affect behaviour include:
- Interspecies contact
In the wild, animals have to show adaptability in their responses to a changing environment. Wild animal behaviour in captivity can differ greatly depending on many factors that may influence animals’ emotions, well-being and welfare. Factors that may affect a wild animal in captivity include:
- Age of animal
- Wild or captive born
- Quality of animal collection housing wild animal
- Ability to express normal behaviours
- How many of the five freedoms are routinely met
- Overall health and welfare status of the animal
There is a range of behaviours that can be demonstrated by animals, which are affected by the above factors, and some of these will be discussed later in the learning outcome and throughout the module
Behaviours can be broadly split into normal and abnormal behaviours, both of which are seen in captive situations. Wild animals in captivity are more likely to show behaviours which may not be common (or classified as abnormal) for their wild counterparts and these cause concern, especially when welfare of captive animals is considered.
Behaviour is all about conforming to a normal type, but why do animals do this? Animals conform for a variety of reasons including:
- To allow for communication
- To allow for physical and mental health
- To allow for balance, for example predator/prey relationships
- To allow for breeding
Some of the above behaviours are not seen within captive situations due to the nature of a captive lifestyle. Some animals may not experience breeding, fighting or social behaviours if they are housed individually and away from other individuals of the same species.
Fighting may also be discouraged within captive situations because, although it is natural in the wild, captive animals cannot escape and animal collections need to ensure their animals are free from pain, injury, fear and distress. Normal animal behaviour comes in many forms.
Dominance can be defined as an individual having influence or power over one or many individuals. Dominant behaviours tend to occur with animals that display hierarchical behaviours and have a ‘pecking order’. Animals that are at the top of a hierarchy will dominate over those lower down the ranks. Dominant behaviours tend to occur in order to protect and have access to certain resources such as food, mates, territories or sleeping areas. These resources are seen as privileges and only available to the most dominant within a group.
As a rule, males of a species take the dominant role within a group but there are, as always, exceptions to the rule. Within hyena groups, for example, it is females who outrank the males and hold a more dominant position within the group. Wolves show a different group structure, as there is an alpha male and female within a group and these are the only individuals that are able to breed.
Some examples of animals that show dominant behaviours in hierarchal groups include:
- Elephant seal
- Bottlenose dolphin
- Komodo dragon
- Galapagos giant tortoise
- Great white shark
There are many other examples in the animal kingdom of behaviours shown. Training to be a zookeeper through our zookeeper course allows you to know the signs to look for when the animal is showing abnormal behaviour which may be a sign of ill health or poor welfare.