Behavioural Enrichment
November 20 2015

Behavioural Enrichment

Encouraging species specific behaviours in captive lions is an important part of maintaining their health, and for developing their natural instincts. ALERT’s partners in the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Programme have long engaged in a wide variety of behavioural enrichment activities with lions in stage one of the programme, as an integral part of their lion management practices. B.E., as it is known amongst staff, volunteers and interns, comes in many forms. 

This past week, volunteers in Zimbabwe have been using smells to encourage activity in the lions whilst they spend time in their enclosure, when not on walks. Strong scented herbs and spices, as well as different flavours of essential oils were placed in various locations around the enclosure, and on a variety of toys. The lions were inquisitive about the different scents, but showed strong preferences for some over others. The lions shied away from a cinnamon and clove combination oil, as well as the citrus mix, but appeared to enjoy a lavender-soaked stick.

Behaviour Enrichment 1

In Zambia, interns have been creating animals out of natural materials. Believe it or not, this creation started out (at least in the minds of these interns) as an attempt to create an impala. Using curved, dried palm fronds for the body created a trough in which strong smelling fresh elephant dung (every cub’s favourite toy) was placed.

Behaviour Enrichment 1

ALERT conducts and facilitates research on behaviour enrichment activities with our partners’ lions.  Previous research, published in the academic journal Current Zoology (Ncube and Ndagurwa, 2010) focused on the influence of social upbringing on the activity pattern of lion cubs during behavioural enrichment. The study concluded that cubs within the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Programme spent more time moving, playing and displaying hunting instincts than mother-raised cubs. The current research focus is on the impact of age and sex on reactions to behavioural enrichment, which will assist in understanding potential differences in how natural behaviours in lion cubs develop, with a possible application in improving how cubs are raised in the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Programme to improve chances of success at release.

Reference: Ncube S, Ndagurwa HGT (2010) Influence of social upbringing on the activity pattern of captive lion Panthera leo cubs: Benefits of behavior enrichment.  Current Zoology 56 (4): 389-394.

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