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Spatial and Behavioral Patterns of Captive Coyotes

By Jeffrey T. Schultz

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Environmental enrichment is a technique used at many captive animal facilities that can improve the well-being of their animals. It seeks to enhance habitat features and promote natural behavior by providing a variety of practical ways for captive animals to control their environmental settings, especially during stressful circumstances. Enclosure features, such as shelter structures, are one tool that promotes wild behavior by adding complexity to an enclosure’s physical environment. Enrichment efforts for captive wildlife are most effective when they are specialized to the biological needs of the animals. Human activity may alter captive animal behavior and utility of enclosure features, and there is concern that human presence can negatively impact the welfare of some captive animals. Captive coyotes (Canis latrans) at the USDA-National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) Predator Research Facility in Millville, UT, USA, are maintained for research on biology, ecology, physiology and behavior. Coyotes at the research facility are routinely noticed utilizing shelter structures to hide, rest, and display vigilant behavior. Because they regularly use these simple structures, new and more complex enrichment shelter structures were installed to be evaluated. Specific research objectives aimed to assess (1) coyote enclosure utilization and shelter structure preferences, and (2) coyote spatial and behavioral responses to human activity. Using 32 mated coyote pairs rotated through eight 1.5-acre enclosures for 28-day trials over the winter months (January – March) of 2015 and 2016, spatial and behavioral patterns were monitored via the implementation of GPS-collars and live behavioral observations. Coyotes showed preference for shelter structure designs, but still spent most of their time at the perimeter and open areas of their enclosures. Complex structures were preferred over simple structures. Coyotes most often demonstrated inactive and vigilant behavior without human activity, but showed increased vigilance when there was human activity. Human activity also stimulated coyotes to become more active than inactive and reduce their utilization of enrichment structures. Although there was no clear preference for one specific type of enrichment structure, composite evidence from GPS-collars and behavioral data suggest the ramp may have heightened biological suitability. This study advances the knowledge of captive coyote spatial patterns and helps improve environmental enrichment planning for captive animals by exploring effective methods of adding complexity to animal enclosures.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Pages 82
Department Wildland Resources
Degree Master of Science
Language English
University Utah State University
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Coyotes
  3. open access
  4. Zoo and captive wild animals
  1. open access