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Extensive human presence at an early age of ostriches improves the docility of birds at a later stage of life

By Maud Bonato, Irek A. Malecki, Magretha D. Wang, Schalk W. P. Cloete

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While ostriches are relatively wild birds with a short period of domestication, some birds demonstrate a strong interest in humans. Human imprinting of chicks could therefore facilitate the cooperation of birds for assisted reproduction technology purposes, improving the quality of human–bird interactions and consequently promoting the welfare of the birds. We investigated the effect of 4 different husbandry practices performed at an early age (standard husbandry, two extended human care treatments and foster parent care) on the response of one-year-old ostrich chicks (N=206) to human presence. Specifically, we tested whether chicks exposed to more human presence and care (Imprint 1 and 2) would be more docile towards humans, as opposed to those exposed to standard husbandry practices (Standard) or foster parenting (Foster). Behavioural observations were performed 3 times a week for a period of 3 months when the birds reached an age of approximately one year. The following behaviours towards the human observer were recorded: willingness to approach the human (approach), allowing touch by the human (touch), wing flapping, the keeping of a distance from the human (distance), sexual behaviour and aggressive behaviour. We consistently found that Imprint 1, Imprint 2 and Standard chicks were significantly more inclined to approach and create contact with the observer than Foster chicks. However, no differences in approaching, touching, keeping a distance or wing flapping was observed between Imprint 2 and Standard chicks. Furthermore, no sexual or aggressive behaviour repertoires were recorded during the observation period. These results suggest that human imprinted chicks and chicks reared under standard husbandry practices are more docile than chicks reared by foster parents. Hence, such expression of friendly behaviour and apparently reduced fear towards humans could potentially lead to tamer birds, improved welfare and subsequently more efficient production. However, the lack of differences between chicks subjected to a reduced intensity of imprinting and chicks reared under standard husbandry conditions stresses the need for further investigations in this species, and specifically in terms of sexual and/or aggressive display towards humans when the birds reach full sexual maturity.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 148
Issue 3
Pages 232-239
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2013.08.003
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Human-animal interactions
  4. Production