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Assessing inactivity in zoo gorillas using keeper ratings and behavioral data

By Elena Hoellein Less, Christopher W. Kuhar, Patricia M. Dennis, Kristen E. Lukas

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Abstract

One way to address the problem of small sample size in zoo research is to conduct a study involving multiple institutions. However, when conducting behavioral research, it can be difficult for one investigator to travel to each institution or for staff at individual institutions to find time to collect behavioral data. This study validates keeper assessments of western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) activity levels against behavioral data collected systematically in the zoo setting. Our purpose in validating a keeper rating of inactivity was to increase efficiency of behavioral data collection and maximize the amount of activity information for a larger study on gorilla health and behavior. A questionnaire was sent to 15 Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institutions housing 63 gorillas (37 male, 26 female) gorillas. Behavioral data for the project were collected by staff at each institution and/or by the principal invesitgator (PI) using group scan sampling. Every data collector was reliability tested by video until they gained >90% agreement with the PI. Mean percent of time spent in a behavior was calculated from the scan data. In this case, the focus was on the time spent immobile (i.e., stationary) and time spent idle (i.e., at rest, performing no otherwise defined active behaviors). We examined the correlation between the keepers’ ratings and time spent immobile and idle as calculated from the behavioral data. Behavioral data on individuals that spent more time immobile were significantly correlated with an increasingly inactive ranking by staff (P=0.003). Time spent idle was significantly correlated with time spent immobile (P=0.001) and time spent idle was also significantly correlated with an increasingly inactive ranking by staff (P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 137
Issue 1
Pages 74-79
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2012.01.001
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Tags
  1. Activity
  2. Behavioral research