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Genetic and environmental parameters for behavioural responses towards humans in farmed ostriches

By Pfunzo T. Muvhali, Maud Bonato, Anel Engelbrecht, Irek A. Malecki, Schalk W. P. Cloete

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This study investigated the effect of human-ostrich interactions at an early age on behavioural responses towards humans later in life, as well as computed genetic parameters for behavioural responses towards humans. Responses recorded were a willingness to approach a human handler, allowing touch interactions with the handler, keeping a distance from the handler, wing flapping and excessive pecking directed at the handler at flock level. Ostrich chicks were exposed to human voice, gentle touch and visual interactions (HP1), to human voice and visual interaction only, without touch interactions (HP2), and limited human interactions (only daily provision of food and water and handling for routine husbandry practices; standard and foster). Foster chicks were reared by a breeding pair, while the general chick rearing practice at the farm was used for standard chicks. Behavioural responses to humans were subsequently investigated on 1 092 ostriches between the ages of 8–19 months. HP1 and HP2 birds were more inclined to approach the handler and allow touch interactions, while a lower number of birds from these treatments distanced themselves from the handler, compared to those that had limited interactions with humans. Males were more likely to approach, allow touch interactions, and engage in wing flapping, while they were also less likely to keep a distance from the handler than females. HP1 and HP2 birds were more likely to interact with, and less likely to distance themselves from a familiar than an unfamiliar handler. Heritability estimates ranged from 0.15 (wing flapping and excessive pecking) to 0.38 (approach and keeping a distance). Repeatability estimates ranged from 0.33 (wing flapping) to 0.55 (approach and keeping a distance). Human-ostrich interactions can thus be improved by integrating extensive human presence and regular gentle handling in the husbandry practices for ostrich chicks. Selection of breeder birds with a desirable temperament will fast-track domestication in this recently domesticated species.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 262
Pages 105907
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2023.105907
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Heritability
  4. Human-animal relationships