Feeding Enrichment in a Captive Pack of European Wolves ( Canis Lupus Lupus): Assessing the Effects on Welfare and on a Zoo's Recreational, Educational and Conservational Role

Animals (Basel). 2019 Jun 8;9(6):331. doi: 10.3390/ani9060331.


This study investigated the effects of two feeding enrichment programs on the behaviour of a captive pack of European wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and their correlation with both zoo visitors' interest towards the exhibit and their overall perception of the species. Behavioural data (exploration, stereotypies, social interactions, activity/inactivity rates) were collected on four male wolves during four two-week long phases: initial control, hidden food, novel object, final control. Three observation sessions were performed daily: before, during and after feeding. Number of visitors and their permanence in front of the exhibit were recorded. After watching the wolves, visitors were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire in order to investigate their perception of captive wolf welfare, as well as their attitude towards wolf conservation issues. Despite the high inter-individual variability in their behavioural response, all wolves seemed to benefit from feeding enrichment. With regard to visitors, interest in the exhibit increased when enrichment was provided. Visitors' perception of the level of welfare of wolves improved if they attended a feeding session, especially during the novel object phase. Visitors' attitude towards wolf conservation issues also improved during feeding sessions, regardless of enrichment provision.

Keywords: animal welfare; conservation; education; visitor; wolf behaviour; zoo.