Contrafreeloading in grizzly bears: implications for captive foraging enrichment

Zoo Biol. Jul-Aug 2010;29(4):484-502. doi: 10.1002/zoo.20282.


Although traditional feeding regimens for captive animals were focused on meeting physiological needs to assure good health, more recently emphasis has also been placed on non-nutritive aspects of feeding. The provision of foraging materials to diversify feeding behavior is a common practice in zoos but selective consumption of foraging enrichment items over more balanced "chow" diets could lead to nutrient imbalance. One alternative is to provide balanced diets in a contrafreeloading paradigm. Contrafreeloading occurs when animals choose resources that require effort to exploit when identical resources are freely available. To investigate contrafreeloading and its potential as a theoretical foundation for foraging enrichment, we conducted two experiments with captive grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis). In Experiment 1, bears were presented with five foraging choices simultaneously: apples, apples in ice, salmon, salmon in ice, and plain ice under two levels of food restriction. Two measures of contrafreeloading were considered: weight of earned food consumed and time spent working for earned food. More free than earned food was eaten, with only two bears consuming food extracted from ice, but all bears spent more time manipulating ice containing salmon or apples than plain ice regardless of level of food restriction. In Experiment 2, food-restricted bears were presented with three foraging choices simultaneously: apples, apples inside a box, and an empty box. Although they ate more free than earned food, five bears consumed food from boxes and all spent more time manipulating boxes containing apples than empty boxes. Our findings support the provision of contrafreeloading opportunities as a foraging enrichment strategy for captive wildlife.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Zoo*
  • Environment Design
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Linear Models
  • Ursidae / physiology*