A survey of abnormal repetitive behaviors in North American river otters housed in zoos

J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2012;15(3):208-21. doi: 10.1080/10888705.2012.658334.


Stereotypic behaviors, indicating poor welfare and studied in a variety of species (especially carnivores), appear related to characteristics of current and past environments. Although North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) often develop abnormal, repetitive, possibly stereotypic behaviors, no published reports describe otter housing and management or characterize how these variables relate to abnormal repetitive behavior (ARB) occurrence. The first author developed surveys to gather data on housing, individual history, management, and the prevalence of ARBs in otters housed in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Consistent with anecdotal evidence that otters are prone to ARBs, 46% of river otters in the study exhibit them. ARBs were mostly locomotor and often preceded feeding. Exhibits where otters were fed and trained housed a greater percentage of nonhuman animals with ARBs. This study supports the Tarou, Bloomsmith, and Maple (2005) report that more hands-on management is associated with higher levels of ARBs because management efforts are only for animals with ARBs. Escape motivation, breeding season, feeding cues, and ability to forage may affect ARBs in river otters and should be investigated.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Zoo / psychology*
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Housing, Animal
  • Male
  • Otters / psychology*
  • Stereotyped Behavior*