Health & Management / Mammal Husbandry and Management / List of hyperlinked Techniques & Protocols:

< >  Meeting Mammal Behavioural Requirements:

Bears: Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with captionRabbits: Two rabbits. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbits with separating fence. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit run with shelter. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit hutch with attached run. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit cage with newspaper and hay. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit pen with hayrack, tunnet etc. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit pen with straw and litter tray. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit pen with straw and furnishings. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit hopping over furnishings. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbits in box on grass. Click here for full page view with caption. Large rabbit shed and run. Click here for full page view with caption. Large rabbit shed and run. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit and guinea pig. Clcik here for full page view with caption Feeding box for hares, mixed species exhibit.  Click here for full page view with caption Rabbits in living room. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbits on covered sofa. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbits in basket. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit sitting on mat. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit lying on floor. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit with cage in background. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit in box. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit in snow. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit on cushion. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit on grass. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit in "igloo" eating greens. Click here for full page view with caption. Litter tray. Click here for full page view with caption Bonobos: Scatter feeding pieces of vegetable Multiple sleeping shelves at different heights. Feeder log with holes Feeder barrel for bonobos Bonobo enclosure with multiple climbing opportunities. Click here for full page view with caption Bonoo outdoor enclosure with climbing frame Bonobo enclsure with multiple climbing structures and raised net for resting. Click here for full page view with caption Bonobo enclosure with climbing structures and elevated nets for resting. Click here for full page view with caption Bonobo with browse Bonobo with hessian sack Bonobo with hose strips smeared with honey Deep woodwool covering indoor enclosure floor Bonobos using tube feeder Forage tray Bonobo wading chest-deep. Click here for full page view with caption

Introduction and General Information

"Preventing boredom, stress and abnormal behaviour is a priority in enhancing the welfare of captive animals." (P71.1995.w1)

When animals are in human care, their psychological needs should be met as much as possible (B439.6.w6). It must be accepted that the captive environment will differ from the wild environment in a number of ways, such as lack of life-threatening challenges by predators, diseases and hunger. The aim of developing an appropriate psychological environment should not be to mimic nature exactly, but "to create facilities that enable the animal to carry out a program of activity similar in complexity to that which it undertakes in the wild." (B439.6.w6) It is important to remember that no single approach is likely to provide for all of the animal's needs. (J4.223.w3) Provision of environmental enrichment, whether an animal is in a zoo, rehabilitation centre or life-time care facility (sanctuary), may improve welfare. Additionally, for animals intended for release back to the wild, it may stimulate natural behaviours "such as foraging, orientation, avoidance of predators and development of social relationships." (J328.93.w1)

Appropriate enclosure design and management, including enrichment, is important to fulfil the behavioural requirements of the animal, described in the "Five Freedoms" as "Freedom to express most normal patterns of behaviour" and "Freedom from fear and stress". (P73.4.w2)

  • In designing facilities and enrichment activities for mammals, their behavioural requirements need to be met. For their psychological well-being the following requirements should be fulfilled:
    • Stability and security: e.g. a den and/or nesting material for solitary mammals, an appropriate social group for social mammals, elevated resting places for arboreal animals, enough space that the individual's flight distance is exceeded, provision of places to hide from humans and other animals;
    • Appropriate complexity (including e.g. trees for climbing, appropriate substrate for digging or burrowing, water for swimming, depending on the species);
    • An element of novelty/unpredictability, providing the opportunity for exploratory behaviour;
    • Opportunities to achieve goals, such as finding or gaining access to hidden foods;
    • The ability to make choices such as lying in sun or shade;
    • Opportunities for play;
    • Opportunities both for work and for leisure. 

    (B214.2.3.w14, B439.6.w6, J4.223.w2, J147.1.w1, N4.16.w1, N19.2.w4, N4.24.w3, P108.12.w1, W643.Jan08.w1)

"The physical environment for any animal should provide diversity, change over time, and be rendered as complex as possible." (D315.1.w1) In general, compared to wild environments, zoo environments are spatially limited and lack complexity and novelty; animal welfare can be improved by enriching the environment, giving the animals more behavioural options and providing the animal with control over elements of their environment. (B429.31.w31, P107.1.w2, P108.12.w1)

The WAZA Code of Ethics and Animal Welfare states: "All exhibits must be of such size and volume as to allow the animal to express its natural behaviours. Enclosures must contain sufficient material to allow behavioural enrichment and allow the animal to express natural behaviours. The animals should have areas to which they may retreat and separate facilities should be available to allow separation of animals where necessary, e.g., cubbing dens. At all times animals should be protected from conditions detrimental to their well-being and the appropriate husbandry standards adhered to." (D273 - full text provided)

  • Note: it is important to remember that there are species differences in behavioural needs, i.e. that different species have different apparent needs for mental stimulation. In general terms, these vary with the longevity of the species, the complexity of its foraging techniques, the complexity of its social life, its vulnerability to predation, differences in degree of sensitivity of the different perceptive senses, and the normal topography of its habitat (e.g. if it lives in a complex three-dimensional habitat). (B439.6.w6)
  • Animals provided with environmental enrichment are more likely to be active and are more likely to spend time displaying behaviours which they would normally use in the wild. (J23.18.w2, J328.93.w1)
    • They are more likely to be interesting for visitors, and an additional benefit may be a reduction in visitors feeding junk food to animals. (J23.18.w2)
  • Note: there will be individual variations in responses to enrichment; not all individuals, even of a given species, will respond to enrichment items/opportunities in the same way and some individuals may ignore something which other individuals use repeatedly. (P82.7.w7, P82.7.w8)
Health considerations
  • Enrichment can increase physical exercise, improve physical health and psychological well-being, and reduce or prevent the development of undesirable behaviours and stereotypies. (J54.22.w3)
  • If animals are more active on a daily basis due to provision of an appropriate enclosure, group composition and environmental enrichment, it may be easier for keepers to notice subtle changes in activity indicating normal physiological changes (e.g. pregnancy) or abnormalities requiring veterinary examination and treatment. (J4.171.w7, J23.18.w2)
  • Consideration should be given to potential risks associated with environmental enrichment, and ensuring that safety concerns are addressed. (J54.22.w3, J328.93.w1, W643.June06.w3)
  • Note: it should not just be assumed that provision of novel objects, changing food presentation, changes in enclosure design etc. will be appropriate in meeting the behavioural needs of the animals. Properly designed studies are required to document behaviours and to demonstrate whether or not different enclosure designs, enrichments etc. are effective, i.e. whether they promote normal behaviours of the species and reduce or eliminate abnormal behaviours. (B439.10.w10, B440.12.w12, P82.7.w2, P82.7.w3, P108.12.w1)
  • Studies on large numbers of animals, over several institutions, carried out over longer periods of time and measuring multiple dependent variables (physiological as well as behavioural) may be advantageous in detecting and describing problems such as stereotypic behaviours, and in analysing factors (e.g. environmental, husbandry, temperament) associated with these. (P82.7.w3)
  • On a day-to-day basis, whether an animal's psychological needs have been met may be assessed based on whether the animal shows a wide range of normal behaviours and is active; the absence of abnormal behaviours; whether the animal is confident, as indicated by moving around freely without showing fear or aversive behaviour; and whether it is able to rest and relax without being constantly vigilant. (B439.6.w6, J419.73.w1)
  • Care is required to avoid a sudden large increase in stimulation intensity, which may be excessively stressful to the animal. (J328.93.w1)

(B214.2.3.w14, B429.31.w31, B439.6.w6, B439.10.w10, B440.12.w12, D273, J4.171.w7, J4.223.w2, J23.18.w2, J147.1.w1, J328.93.w1, J419.73.w1, N19.2.w4, P73.4.w2, P82.7.w2, P82.7.w3, P107.1.w2, P108.12.w1, W643.June06.w3)

Bear Consideration

"The natural environment for bears is a soft one and one that offers an almost infinite variety of things to do during the course of the animal's life." (B407.w7) In captivity, "all bear areas should contain an appropriate and sufficient enrichment choice", including sun, shade and shelter, and both low and elevated areas." (J328.93.w1)

Bears are intelligent and curious; they are opportunistic feeders and in the wild they spend considerable portions of their time investigating and testing their environment, foraging for a variety of foods by a variety of methods including digging, tearing open logs, debarking trees, turning over stones etc. (B407.w7, J54.10.w1, J54.10.w2, P36.1994.w4) Enrichment for bears should take this natural behaviour into consideration. Additionally, it should be remembered that bears are intelligent; enrichment should be varied to avoid the bears getting bored. (N19.4.w1)

  • "Behavioural enrichment is not a substitute for good enclosure design but is a complementary part of a good enclosure." (B407.w7) Similarly, space and environmental complexity should not be assumed to provide an appropriate environment; additional environmental enrichment may be required. (J433.9.w2)
  • Bear enclosures should provide sufficient space for the bears to move about freely, and to escape from perceived danger. Enclosures also should provide opportunities for bear to explore their environment. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Elements of the bear's enclosure - topography, natural vegetation, artificial structures, pools etc. - should enable the bears to use behavioural means of thermoregulation, with warm, sheltered areas (particularly for tropical species), cool shady areas, etc. (B407.w7, D247.2.w2, D315.1.w1, J23.29.w2, J23.29.w3, J328.93.w1, W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Note: When more than one bear is kept in an enclosure, multiple opportunities for activities such as digging, resting, obtaining shelter, shade or a view out of the enclosure should be provided, so that these are not monopolised by the dominant individual.
  • "Optimally, the bears should have as much choice and control over their own environment as possible." (B407.w4)
    • For example, it is suggested that polar bears should be able to choose whether to be on exhibit or off exhibit at all times, except e.g. if kept indoor at night, or during enclosure maintenance. "Where appropriate for bear and human safety, bears should not be locked on exhibit during the day or locked into dens at night." (D315.1.w1)
    • Providing the choice of access to both the main exhibit area and indoor, off-exhibit, dens may reduce stereotypic behaviour (see below: Stress, Behavioural Problems and Stereotypic Behaviour) and increase social behaviour. (J434.73.w1)
    • The Manitoba Polar Bear Protection Regulation requires that bears always have free access to move between the exhibit area and their off-exhibit area, except that they can be kept in the off-exhibit area for short periods of the day, to allow maintenance of the exhibit area or to give the bears a break from public viewing, and overnight. (LCofC10 - [Full text provided])
  • In the past, particularly for Ursus maritimus - Polar bears, behavioural requirements have been greatly underestimated. These bears are good climbers, have excellent balance, and enjoy foraging, digging and resting in natural substrates. (B407.w4)
  • Polar bears are hunters; they should be provided with opportunities which are functionally similar to the behaviours they use in hunting and obtaining prey, promoting "manipulation, foraging, exploring, digging, tearing, scratching, pouncing, hunting, swimming and playing." (D315.1.w1)
  • For Ursus maritimus - Polar bear, a dynamic, stimulating environment should be produced by a combination of enclosure design, feeding strategies, environmental enrichment and a cooperative training husbandry programme. While all of the bear's senses should be stimulated, areas of reduced sensory stimulation may be desirable also, to avoid over-stimulation. While it is clearly not possible to provide areas similar in size to those travelled in the wild, the enclosure can be designed to maximise variety of experience, and varied enrichment opportunities can be provided daily. (D315.1.w1 - [full text provided])
  • Note: Bears are individuals, and show individual variation in their reaction to the provision of different enrichments. (N4.23.w1)

(B407.w4, B407.w7, D247.2.w2, D315.1.w1 (full text provided), J23.29.w2, J23.29.w3, J54.10.w1, J54.10.w2, J328.93.w1, J433.9.w2, LCofC10 - [Full text provided], N4.23.w1, P36.1994.w4, W627.Mar06.w1)

Lagomorph Consideration

Domestic rabbit

Domestic rabbits are descended from the wild Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit. Although they vary greatly in colour, size and body shape, behaviourally they are still very close to their wild ancestors - a prey species. 

  • Scent and body posture are very important in their communication systems, as well as some sounds - such as the hind-leg thumping warning of danger. 
  • These rabbits are highly social, living in groups which can exceed 100 individuals per large warren, within which are smaller family groups (2 - 14 rabbits). 
  • They mark the boundaries of their territory with faecal pellets and defend the territory from other groups of rabbits. The strong-smelling urine is also used to mark the territory and is sprayed on other individual rabbits - high-ranking males may show enuration (urine spraying) on lower-ranking males, as well as during courtship. Prominent features within the territory are scent marked using a gland under the chin. Within the group their is a common scent. 
  • Among adult males there is a hierarchy, and the subordinate animal will crouch down, while the dominant animal may "chin" it, scent marking it. 
  • Females generally show mutual acceptance of one another outside the breeding season, and a hierarchy during the breeding season. 
  • Rabbits show mutual grooming; this comfort behaviour may strengthen relationships.
  • For further information see Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit

(B601.1.w1, B602.13.w13, B620, D360, J15.27.w2)

Behavioural requirements which should be considered and provided for domestic rabbits include:

  • Companionship;
  • Gnawing and the ability to work for food;
  • Digging;
  • Access to a sufficient area for regular exercise (including running and jumping);
  • Ability to retreat and hide;
  • Ability to sit upright and "lookout".
  • Absence of predators. (B622.6.w6)
  • Absence of unusual noises and smells. B622.6.w6
  • Ability to mark its territory with chin secretions and with urine and faecal pellets
  • Not feeling threatened, including not feeling threatened by the owner looming over it to pick it up. B622.6.w6

(B600.2.w2, B601.1.w1, B606.1.w1, B615.6.w6, B622.6.w6, D360, D375, J15.27.w2, J213.7.w3, J288.68.w1, J495.41.w7, N34.Autumn07.w2,  N36.Jan05.w1)

  • House rabbits should be encouraged to exercise around the house and garden. (B339.8.w8)
  • Hutch rabbits need to be given space for exercise and grazing. Either the hutch can be placed in a larger enclosure, or they should have a separate run. A shed can also be used as an exercise area. (B339.8.w8)
  • Hutch rabbits also need toys and furnishings to make their environment more stimulating. (B620)
  • Training of a rabbit, using positive reinforcement training, may be enjoyable for the rabbit and its owner. (J29.16.w8)
    • Punishment should not be used. (J29.16.w8)
  • It is important to make sure that the rabbit does not feel threatened, including by the owner, predators, unusual noises or unusual smells. (J15.27.w2)
  • Newly-acquired rabbits should be travelled in a well-ventilated sturdy box or cage lined with bedding or a towel, and be given time to settle down, in a quiet part of the house (if a house rabbit). (B622.3.w3)
Wild lagomorphs
In wild lagomorphs, space and shelter are recognised to be important; other requirements vary depending on the natural behaviours of the different species:
  • Digging is not important to all species (e.g. not important to Lepus spp. or Sylvilagus spp.).
  • Within the pikas, provision of a burrow and/or rock piles are very important, depending on whether they are burrowing or talus-dwelling species (with some species being intermediate in their habits).
  • Social structure varies between the species. Not all are social, and some are territorial. These differences should be considered in providing appropriate social groupings, and enclosures which allow for the species-specific social structures.
  • Depending on the species, appropriate hiding places may be burrows or equivalents, tussock grass, tall vegetation etc.
  • Note: Wild-caught lagomorphs, including wild Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit (the ancestors of domestic rabbits) generally do not adapt to confined housing systems; standard small mammal cages are not appropriate for these species.

(B10.45.w47, B602.13.w13, J82.16.w1, J469.424.w1)

Ferret Consideration In general, adult ferrets can be considered to retain many characteristics seen in juvenile Mustela putorius - Polecats: they are gregarious, accepting other  ferrets (in a manner similar to the way juvenile polecats accept their litter mates); they are very curious and playful, less attentive than adult polecats, not fearful of humans (juvenile polecats can be socialised to accept humans) and very tolerant of changes. (P120.2007.w6)
  • Compared with Mustela putorius - Polecats, ferrets are less temperamental, less agile, and less fearful of unfamiliar environments and of humans. (B627.1.w1)
  • Ferrets are social and have an affinity for people. They are very playful. (J213.4.w7)
  • Ferrets are very adaptable and can make excellent pets. (B232.3.w3)
  • Ferrets are curious, active and intelligent; they should not be kept confined in a small cage for long periods, and should be provided with environmental enrichment. (B602.1.w1, B631.17.w17)
  • The ferret's natural activity patterns mean that it may play intensely for a short period then sleep soundly for several hours and be difficult to wake during this time. (J29.8.w2)
  • While awake, ferrets are very active and need stimulation. They benefit from areas to investigate, and places to hide. (D397 - full text included)

  • Ferrets which are kept in a cage need at least two hours a day outside the cage for exercise, not all in one session. (D402 - full text included)

Bonobo Consideration Wild bonobos live in multi-male, multi-female fission-fusion societies. They travel considerable distances daily to find food, moving both on the ground (between fruit patches) and arboreally. They spend a considerable portion of their time in foraging, and social interaction such as grooming is very important. They are highly intelligent. Play occurs within and between a variety of age-sex classes.

For further information see:

Note: Much more information is available for Pan troglodytes - Chimpanzees than for Pan paniscus - Bonobos. However, there are important differences between these two species, particularly in their social (including socio-sexual and agonistic) behaviour. It is important to remember that while information gained from chimpanzees and other great ape species may be relevant for bonobos, laboratory studies have shown that even relatively closely-related primate species may show different responses to potential stressors. (J288.90.w1)

  • The environment provided for bonobos (and for other great apes) should be complex and changeable, providing stimulation so that the bonobos can express curiosity, exploration and intelligence, enable foraging, encourage arboreal locomotion, and providing social contact between bonobos. (B336.39.w39, D386.App1.w6)

Published Guidelines linked in Wildpro

Return to top of page

Group Composition and Breeding Requirements

The size, shape and stocking of animal enclosures, including design of both indoor and outdoor enclosures, needs to consider the normal behaviour and social tendency of the species to be kept.

"The social environment is a crucial factor in the success of captive propagation. Group composition and space considerations are intimately linked and should be planned together. Moreover, a species' breeding biology must be considered at the outset." Additionally, "adequate social stimulation is the most important requirement for normal development of many mammalian species." (J54.3.w1)

  • Group size both in absolute terms and in relation to the area available, and group composition (sex ratio, ages of animals) should be developed with reference to the normal social structure of the species in the wild.
  • "Keeping mammals in appropriate social groupings is an extremely important means of creating complex environments." (B429.31.w31) To minimise stress, solitary animals should not usually be group housed, nor should social species be housed singly. At the same time, gregarious species should not be overcrowded. 
    • In considering space and group size, allowances must be made for expected offspring which may remain in the group.
    • Breeding may decline if enclosures are overcrowded.
    • Disease and mortality are likely to increase if enclosures are overcrowded.
  • Some species which are solitary in the wild due to e.g. widely scattered food resources, do live amicably in groups in captivity (where food is plentiful) and may benefit from social stimulation. Others may not. This must be approached on a species-by-species basis and with regard to different personalities of individual animals.
  • Improper sex ratios, overcrowding or conflict over food resources all may cause increased aggression. 
    • Competition can be minimised (and opportunities for exercise increased) by ensuring that critical resources, such as feeding and resting areas, are duplicated and provided in dispersed locations. (J4.223.w3)
  • In some species, only a single adult male can be kept in a given enclosure, since the dominant male will take the whole enclosure as his territory and may harass other males, preventing them from feeding, drinking, resting etc., as well as directly injuring them.
    • In very large enclosures, it may be possible to maintain more than one male in the group, by providing a number of widely distributed feeding stations, ensuring there are no corners where subordinate males can get caught, etc.
  • It is important to consider the effects which may result when one or more new individuals is introduced to an existing social group.
  • Depending on the species, it may be important for females with neonates or older dependent offspring to be provided with separate accommodation, or to be with a mate or in a social group with non-breeding animals assisting with raising of the offspring.
  • See also: 
  • Care must be taken when introducing animals to one another.
  • To reduce aggression, introduction may carried out gradually, for example:
    • Transferring material such as bedding, containing an individual's odours, before the individual is introduced.
    • Placing animals in adjacent enclosures with a screen door between them, so that the animals can see, hear and smell one another, before allowing physical contact.
    • Carrying out the introduction in a neutral space.
  • "Creep doors" or other barriers can be used to allow smaller individuals to escape into an area which larger, more dominant or aggressive individuals cannot enter.
  • Animals should be observed carefully following introductions, by personnel familiar with the behaviour of the species and preferably of the individuals concerned, so that signs of problems can be detected quickly.

(B105.19.w6, B214.2.3.w14, B429.32.w32, B438.7.w7, P1.1976.w3, P108.12.w1, V.w5)

Bear Consideration

In the wild, bears are generally solitary. Bears do not defend territories, but the extent to which home ranges overlap, and tolerance between bears, varies depending on species, age/sex, time of year and available resources. For example:
  • Adult Melursus ursinus - Sloth bears have home ranges which overlap up to 100% with those of conspecifics of the same and the opposite gender. Sub-adults have territories overlapping with those of adults. However, there is some evidence that both females with cubs and sub-adults, avoid adult males, by varying the time of day during which they are most active and by differences in seasonal use of different areas.
  • Home ranges and core areas of Ursus americanus - American black bear often overlap with those of other black bears of both sexes. Generally they avoid one another but a number of bears may gather at a rich food resource; there is greater tolerance shown between bears which are familiar with one another than between strangers, and dominance hierarchies may form. 
  • Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bear are solitary except for females with their cubs.
  • Ursus arctos - Brown bear have overlapping home ranges but generally show mutual avoidance. They may be found closer together at rich food resources, particularly salmon rivers, where a dominance hierarchy forms, mainly developed by size and threats, but sometimes by fighting. Dominant adult males are highest ranking, females with cubs are below these, and subadults are lower.
  • Helarctos malayanus - Sun bear appear to be basically solitary except for females with their cubs and pairs, which may be together for several days around mating. A Borneo study found that core areas did not overlap but total home ranges did overlap.
  • The large home ranges of Ursus maritimus - Polar bears show extensive overlaps. Generally these bears are found at low population densities, but densities may be high around garbage dumps; at Hudson Bay in the ice-free season male polar bears were noted to form groups of up to four animals and larger groups have been seen occasionally.
    • In the wild, polar bears in high density populations (Wrangel Island in summer) engage in human-visible communication signals at 15 m or less, but show avoidance behaviours, such as moving away from other bears, at greater distances than this. (D315.1.w1)
  • Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear are solitary except for females with young.
In captivity
  • Bears commonly are kept in pairs or sometimes larger groups in zoos. (B407.w8) In sanctuaries holding rescued bears, often large numbers of bears are present in one enclosure.
  • If a new group of bears is to be formed in a zoo, bears should be of similar ages, perhaps with the male being older. If the group is to be added to, it is better to add two young bears at the same time, rather than one individual; they may be able to support each other during the introductory period. (D265.6.w6)
  • Great care is required when forming groups and adding new bears in sanctuaries. The physical and mental status of the bears should be considered in deciding which bears can be housed together. (P83.1.w1)
  • The age of the bears should be considered: young bears may dominate older bears and be aggressive towards them. (N19.13.w1)
  • Great care is required when allowing a male bear to meet cubs. See: Rearing of Mammals - Parent Rearing
  • Behavioural development may be improved, and development of stereotypic behaviour might be decreased, if cubs are left with their mother for times approximating the period which they would spend with her in the wild, generally a year or more. (D265.6.w6)
    • A study of four adult Melursus ursinus - Sloth bear found that hand-reared bears showed significantly higher frequencies than mother-reared bears for both self-directed and stereotypic behaviours. (J54.11.w2)
  • To encourage natural behaviour and promote the bears' well-being, adequate space, environmental complexity, and appropriate daily management (including environmental enrichment) all are important. (J433.9.w2)
  • Enclosure designs and/or furnishings (artificial or natural) should ensure that bears are able to get out of sight of one another, alleviating stress caused by constant proximity. (B33.7.w3)

Recommendations (EEP Ursid Husbandry Guidelines) (D247)

  • If a breeding group is to be kept containing several females, preferably these females should be siblings or mother and female offspring. (D247.4.w4)
    • If female offspring are to be kept with their mother and be bred, the male needs to be exchanged for an unrelated male before his daughters become sexually mature. This reflects the natural, wild situation more closely than does keeping the same male and introducing unrelated females to one another. (D247.4.w4)
    • With Helarctos malayanus - Sun bear, female offspring may be kept with their parents for several years. However, if unrelated females are introduced to one another there may be (a) aggression, fighting and injuries; (b) reduced reproductive success. (D247.4.w4)
  • If juveniles or sub-adults are to be kept in a single-sex group, it is recommended that (a) they should be of similar ages; (b) there should be an even number of animals if possible. If a group of three must be formed, avoid placing a single cub with a pair of siblings; placing three unrelated individuals together is preferable. (D247.4.w4)

For Ursus maritimus - Polar bears

  • The simplest grouping for exhibition and breeding is one male, one female. The number of individuals which may be kept depends on the space available; groups of one male with two females, and larger groups, have been kept. (D315.2.w2)
  • To keep larger groups of females, the group should be established with siblings, bears reared together or bear introduced to one another as juveniles (two to three years old). (D315.2.w2)
    • Pacing may be reduced in bears kept in multiple-female groups. (D315.2.w2)
  • All male groups may be kept so long as females are not present in adjoining areas. (D315.2.w2)
  • Castrated males have been kept with one another and with females. (D315.2.w2)
  • When it is time to separate females and their cubs, sudden separation is probably best. In the wild, females usually separate from their young when the offspring are about 2.5 years of age. (D315.2.w2)
  • Note:
    • There should be a separate off-exhibit/holding area for each bear for sleeping and for use while the main enclosure is serviced (accessed for husbandry). (D315.1.w1)
    • The personalities of different bears may affect groupings. (D315.2.w2)
    • It should be remembered that behaviour may change with season and with the age of the bears. (D315.1.w1)
    • For enclosures holding more than one bear, the enclosure should be sufficiently large to give each occupant an area visually separated from the rest of the enclosure on at least one side. (D315.1.w1)
    • Pregnant females should be secluded from male polar bears and from other animals. (D315.1.w1)
  • For introductions it should be remembered that there is the potential for bears to be seriously injured or even killed. Introductions need to be properly planned, taken slowly and closely monitored. How long it will take to introduce bears to one another will depend on the personalities of the individual bears. (D315.2.w2)

The following information is taken with permission directly from the AZA Standardized Animal Care Guidelines for Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) (D315.2.w2):


Because of the potential for serious or fatal injuries to the bears, all introductions should be well planned, not rushed, and intensely monitored. Polar bears do have the ability to kill each other with little or no warning. Management challenges usually center on animal incompatibility. The personality of the individual bear can prolong the steps of the introduction. When introducing more than two bears, it is advisable to introduce two at a time before putting the whole group together. The individual’s previous experience with conspecifics can influence the rate of introduction. Basic steps for introducing polar bears should include the following:

1) Staff working with polar bears should establish a familiar routine when a new bear comes into a facility. Diet changes should be introduced gradually. Before introductions are started, the staff and new bears should become familiar with each other.

2) Sufficient time should be allowed for each new animal to adjust to its new surroundings before beginning the introduction process. This period can take a month or more depending upon the individuals involved. The bear should shift, eat regularly, and respond to its trainers before starting introductions. All bears need to be familiar with the entire exhibit and holding areas as individuals, before starting introductions to new animals.

3) Only two bears should be introduced at a time.

4) Animals should be kept in adjacent areas for introductions. The bears should have olfactory and visual access to each other without the possibility of injury. They should not be able to get paws, or other body parts through the access portal during the early stages of the introduction. Staff members do not need to be in the immediate area for the entire time during this stage of the introduction, but do need to be there to observe initial interactions-even from afar. Positive signs at this stage include chuffing and bouncing on front legs. Negative signs are roaring, growling, and biting at the barrier. Individuals may exhibit their own signs of stress. If any negative signs are seen, end the introduction at that point. It is best to go back to the previous step and allow the bears to acclimate further before proceeding. If the female is in estrus, as demonstrated by presenting her hindquarters to the male at the door and urinating in the area of the male, the bears can be put in the same space. Breeding bears are usually not aggressive, but this can vary. Diligence in observation of all introductions is critical.
5) When doing physical introductions, limit the number of people present and keep disturbance in the area to a minimum. If the bears are disturbed by the presence of staff, a remote video set up may be used to monitor the introduction.

6) Introductions should take place in a resource-rich environment. During both off-exhibit and subsequent on-exhibit introductions, the area should be over-stocked with enrichment, especially food. It is critical that enough is offered so that there is not competition for the items, while at the same time providing both bears the opportunity to engage in safe activities, in addition to interacting with each other.

7) When selecting an area for physical introductions, make sure there are no dead ends where one animal can corner another.

8) When the pair appears to be at ease at the visual access point, as demonstrated by lying side-by-side, nose-to-nose, or one animal presenting itself in a vulnerable position while the other animal reacts non-aggressively, they are ready for physical introductions. A partial introduction, allowing bears to get a paw or part of their muzzle, through the access point may be done, if the facility allows. All parts of the enclosure should be clearly visible to both animals. Ample escape routes should exist for both bears so that neither can be trapped or cornered by the other. This full access should only be done with staff members present to separate the animals if necessary. Fighting polar bears can sometimes be separated with water, CO2 fire extinguishers, or any object that makes a loud noise. Introductions should be done in places where the animals can be separated if things go awry. If possible, areas in the exhibit that are out of reach of water cannons dart guns, or other tools to break off negative encounters, should be excluded from introductions.

Reintroductions: Care must also be taken when reintroducing pairs that have been separated for prolonged periods of time, such as when a female has been separated with a cub. Usually, reintroductions of bears familiar with each other take less time. A short visual introduction will tell the staff if the animals are ready to be reintroduced.

Lagomorph Consideration JSPCA004_Two_rabbits.jpg (44664 bytes) Rabbits with separating fence. Click here for full page view with caption.

Domestic rabbit
Rabbits are social animals and benefit from having a companion, ideally another rabbit. (B339.8.w8, B600.2.w2, B601.1.w1, B606.1.w1, B624, J15.27.w2, J29.16.w8, J495.41.w7, N36.Jan05.w1, N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Experimentally, it has been shown that rabbits prefer to be in the company of another rabbit rather than alone, and that they are prepared to "pay" (e.g. by pushing through a weighted door) for contact with or proximity to another rabbit. (D376, J495.41.w7)
  • They should also have the opportunity to retreat from/get out of visual contact with other rabbits. (D376)
  • If a pair of rabbits for breeding are not being kept together, it is important to take the doe to the buck, or take them both to neutral territory, to prevent territorial aggression from the doe. (B339.8.w8, B550.16.w16, J35.151.w2)
  • If fertile rabbit are being group housed, consider removing the other rabbits when a litter is due, to avoid the risk of one doe attacking another doe's litter, and to avoid the buck mating the doe immediately after parturition (resulting in a second litter just a few weeks after the first litter). (B600.3.w3)
  • Group housing of one buck and four or five does has been used successfully. (J147.1.w2)
  • An ideal solution is to keep two littermates together. (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, B606.1.w1, J29.16.w8, N36.Jan05.w1)
  • Rabbits kept as company for each other should be neutered (spayed or castrated). This is likely to reduce aggression in males and excessive mounting during oestrus in females, as well as preventing pregnancy if a male and female are kept together. (B600.2.w2, B601.1.w1, J83.27.w1)
  • The most stable pairings appear to be a male with a female (both neutered). (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, B606.1.w1)
  • Two females or two males can be kept together also, but fighting is more likely. (B606.1.w1)
  • Fighting between rabbits can result in serious injury and even mutilation, particularly injuries to the head and ears, and castration of bucks. (B618.8.w8) See: Lacerations & Punctures, including bite wounds
  • Pair-bonded rabbits may pine if their companion is removed. If one rabbit needs hospitalisation it may be best to keep its companion with it. (B606.1.w1)
  • If one rabbit of a pair dies, the remaining rabbit generally will quickly bond to a replacement companion. (B606.1.w1)
  • If rabbits need to be housed separately temporarily (e.g. keeping male and female apart following spaying of the female, or after the buck is castrated during the period when he is still fertile), they can be placed in cages or pens allowing them to remain in sight, smell, hearing and possibly even touch of one another. 
    • Take care if relying on a vertical barrier to keep a fertile buck and doe separate, as rabbits can leap higher than might be expected. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • Larger groups of rabbits will coexist peacefully if their enclosure is large enough. (B606.1.w1)
    • It is important not to keep too many rabbits in too small a pen. (J83.27.w1)
  • Note: Rabbits vary in personality and can show strong preferences regarding companions; it is not possible to predict in advance whether two rabbits will accept one another or fight. (B600.2.w2)
  • While sociable, rabbits are also territorial. Simply bringing a new rabbit into a home where a rabbit already lives and putting them together is not appropriate. (D351 - Bunny Buddies. Why every rabbit needs a friend - full text included)
  • Rabbits also form bonds with individuals of other species, including cats and dogs. (B606.1.w1)
    • Care is needed when introducing a cat or dog to a rabbit, as they are naturally predators of rabbits. (B606.1.w1)
  • In colony situations, it has been recommended that groups of up to six or eight rabbits should be kept together. (J83.27.w1)
    • In larger groups it is more difficult to monitor for health and signs of bullying. (J83.27.w1)
  • Ideally, groups are formed by keeping litter mates together, or by mixing rabbits from different litters at about weaning age. Forming a group of older animals is more difficult, particularly with males. Rabbits in a group preferably should be of about the same size as one another. (J34.24.w3, J83.27.w1)
  • Some individuals may be particularly aggressive or too timid to fit well into a group. (J83.27.w1)
  • Note:
    • Sufficient space should be provided for the number of rabbits being kept - see: Accommodation Design for Mammals - Enclosure Size and Shape
    • Visual barriers and retreats should be available so that rabbits can get away from one anther if they want to. (J232.46.w1)
All introductions should be supervised. (B339.8.w8)
  • Assume that rabbits introduced to one another as adults will be aggressive. (J83.27.w1)
  • Assume that a lone older rabbit will be aggressive if a younger rabbit is introduced to it. (J34.24.w3)
  • Avoid introducing male rabbits to one another when female rabbits are nearby. (J83.27.w1)
  • If introducing a male to a female, this can be carried out at any time of the year. If introducing rabbits of the same sex, preferably do so during winter (sexually inactive) and not where they can smell any rabbits of the opposite sex (which will increase aggression). (J83.27.w1)
  • Introduce the rabbits in a neutral area (not territory known by one of the rabbits), and not a very small space. (J83.27.w1)
  • If pairing a recently-neutered buck with an unneutered doe, remember the male may still be fertile for 2-4 weeks after neutering - rarely even longer (six weeks). (B601.1.w1, J83.27.w1)
  • Avoid introducing adult intact (unneutered) bucks to each other as they will fight and can seriously injure each other. (B339.8.w8)
  • In groups, particularly with males, interactions should be monitored regularly to check that bullying is not occurring. (J83.27.w1)
    • Refuges/hiding places should be available in which subordinate rabbits can get away from more aggressive individuals. (J83.27.w1)
    • Fighting is more likely in male groups if they are kept near to females. (J83.27.w1)
    • In female groups, A dominant female while in oestrus may harass other females and mount them excessively, resulting in skin trauma. (J83.27.w1)
    • It may be necessary to remove a particularly dominant rabbit (bully) or a particularly timid (bullied) animal from the group. (J83.27.w1)
  • The best combination for "bunny buddies" to live together in a house or hutch is generally a neutered female plus a neutered male. (D351 - Bunny Buddies. Why every rabbit needs a friend - full text included)
  • Two males, or two females, can be kept together, but are harder to introduce. If keeping two rabbits of the same sex, it is best to keep littermates. (D351)
  • The bond between rabbits of the same sex is more likely to be disrupted by a short period apart, and same-sex rabbits are more likely to fight sometimes. (D351)

The introduction process

  • Two rabbits less than 10 -12 weeks of age can usually simply be put together. Occasionally two older rabbits will take to one another immediately. More commonly, two rabbits will need to be introduced gradually, over hours to weeks: (D351, J29.16.w8)
    • Put the two rabbits in cages near to each other so they can see, smell and hear each other. (J29.16.w8, D351)
      • Gradually place the cages closer together. (B622.6.w6)
      • If one rabbit is free-range in an area, place the other rabbit in a cage in the area. (D351)
    • Get the rabbits used to each other's scent: swap litter trays, or rub a cloth over one rabbit then the other. (D351)
    • Once the rabbits have become accustomed to the sight and smell of each other, take them to neutral territory (an area/room not known to either rabbit) and place them together. (D351, J29.16.w8)
      • At home, the bath tub can be used (D351, J29.16.w8), or the two rabbits can be placed in a box together and taken for a short car ride.
        • The rabbits are more likely to move together for comfort in these slightly stressful situations. (D351)
        • They are less likely to fight while in the bath tub with insecure footing. (J29.16.w8)
      • Preferably use a place (e.g. bathroom, shed) which is neutral territory and contains furnishings they can use to get out of sight. (B622.6.w6)
      • Ensure there is hay, green foods etc. available for the rabbits. (B622.6.w6)
      • If they show any signs of tension, separate them. (D351) Note: 
        • Normal initial interactions include chasing and mounting (even in neutered rabbits). (J83.27.w1)
        • While some chasing and nipping is normal at this stage, separating them sooner than necessary is better than risking a serious fight developing. (D351)
        • If the rabbits start to fight, try to separate them using e.g. a water spray; only handle the rabbits to separate them if absolutely necessary. (J83.27.w1)
          • Use a towel if you need to physically separate the rabbits. (J29.16.w8)
      • If the rabbits are harness-trained, they can be introduced to each other while on harnesses, each rabbit held by one human, so that they can easily be separated if they start fighting. (J29.16.w8)
      • Gradually increase the time they spend together. Provide lots of hiding places such as cardboard boxes so they can get away from each other.
      • Successful bonding is indicated by mutual grooming, particularly grooming the other rabbit's head. (J83.27.w1)
        • This may take only a couple of hours, or a couple of days, or sometimes even a couple of months. (J83.27.w1, D351)
      • Once they are grooming each other and lying down together, they are safe to be left together unsupervised. (D351)
      • Instant bonding is characterised by initial apparent lack of interest, then individual grooming, progressing rapidly to mutual grooming and sitting together. (D351)
        • These pairs should be supervised carefully but not separated (if they continue to get along and don't start fighting). (D351)
Wild lagomorphs
Except for Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit, wild lagomorphs do not appear to form large social groups. Group formation has been seen in Sylvilagus aquaticus - Swamp rabbits in particular and Sylvilagus floridanus - Eastern cottontail to a lesser extent when confined in large pens. Even the wild European rabbit does not always form large groups. (J82.16.w1)
  • Care must be taken when introducing rabbits to one another. Individuals vary in temperament. The thin skin is easily torn and severe skin injuries can be fatal. Powerful kicks from the hind legs may cause severe wounds; some will strike with the front feet, and they may also bite. (J332.10.w1)
  • If one Sylvilagus sp. (cottontail) rabbit is introduced into the cage of a resident rabbit, the resident will generally attack. (J332.10.w1)
    • Larger pens, and hiding places into which a rabbit may retreat if attacked, are suggested. (J332.10.w1)
  • In large (1.8 - 2.0 acre) pens, Sylvilagus aquaticus - Swamp rabbits in particular and Sylvilagus floridanus - Eastern cottontail to a lesser extent, appeared to form breeding groups, with mutual tolerance shown within a group of females, and with sexual contacts occurring mainly between males and females within a given breeding group. (J524.13.w1)
  • Romerolagus diazi - Volcano rabbits are aggressive to one another in confined spaces. Breeding has taken place in large (about 50 m²) enclosures holding two males and four females at Chapultepec Zoo, Mexico City; in each of two enclosures, two of four females bred. In Antwerp zoo, a male and female would be introduced under constant supervision. At Jersey Zoo, limited success (one pregnant female) was achieved by placing an apparently receptive female in with a male. Later, pairs were introduced by placing one into each half of a 4 x 4 m pen (with tunnels and nesting boxes), and after a week removing the dividing barrier; the pair would be left together for 35 days then separated (i.e. before the earliest possible parturition date. (J23.10.w1, J23.26.w2, J51.19.w1)
  • In Ochotona dauurica - Daurian pika, it was possible to house a male and a female together in each of four sections of an outdoor pen (total size 180 x 90 x 90 cm high, giving each section 45 x 90 x 90 cm high), each section containing a wooden nest box and piles of grass. Pikas bred in these outdoor pens, while they had failed to breed in indoor cages. (J511.47.w1)
Ferret Consideration Despite being descended from the solitary Mustela putorius - Polecat, ferrets are gregarious (B652.4.w4, P120.2007.w6) (probably a retained juvenile characteristic). (P120.2007.w6) Adult feral ferrets (wild for many generations) in New Zealand sometimes share a den. (J46.246.w1, J209.22.w1) 
  • Ferret kits should not be kept alone; they spend much of their time playing with each other. (W264.Sept11.w1)
  • "The best enrichment a ferret can have is another ferret." The ferrets need to have been raised together or introduced to each other. (D403 - full text included)
  • Ferrets preferably should be kept in groups no larger than normal ferret litter size, (P120.2007.w6) i.e. about six individuals (B631.17.w17)
  • It is usually easier to introduce a new ferret of the opposite sex. (P120.2007.w6)
  • Adult males (hobs) become territorial and more aggressive with one another during the breeding season, particularly if an entire jill is within scenting distance. (B631.17.w17). Entire males, including vasectomised males, may need to be housed separately during this time; (B651.3.w3, B651.6.w6, B652.7.w7) this may reduce stress on the males. (W264.Sept11.w1)
    • Adult males can be kept together throughout the year if either castrated or treated with a GnRH implant. 
  • A breeding female (jill) needs to be provided with a small, undisturbed nesting area in which to care for her young. 
  • Some jills can be left in a communal enclosure to rear their young, but most need a separate cage. (B651.6.w6)
    • Once kits are eating solids and are weaned, families often can be mixed together. (B651.6.w6)
  • Ferrets housed together will play with one another and sleep together. (D403 - full text included)
  • Note that play between ferrets can appear quite rough and includes biting at the back of the neck. This is normal. (D403 - full text included)
Bonobo Consideration Wild bonobos live in fission-fusion societies, in which the relatively large community splits up daily into smaller multi-male, multi-female foraging parties, with the parties converging again towards evening, all then building night nests within a limited area. Bonobos from different communities generally avoid each other, but events have been witnessed with intermingling and even mating of females with males from the other community.
  • In zoos, numbers of bonobos in each collection do not allow reproduction of a complete community, but can mimic the smaller foraging parties. It is recommended that bonobos should be kept in multi-male, multi-female groups (at least two of each) and the bonobo EEP and SSP have been working to achieve this, and to increase the size of social groups. (D386.2.1.w2a, D386.App1.w6)
  • There are difficulties associated with multi-male multi-female groups concerning monitoring of females' reproductive cycles, selection of appropriate pairings for breeding, preventing loss of genetic diversity, and preventing inbreeding. (D386.2.1.w2a)
  • Males which are genetically overrepresented or genetically undesirable may be housed in an all-male group. (D386.App1.w6)
  • Social groups should be made up of bonobos of a range of ages, including both adult and immature individuals. (D386.App1.w6)

Bonobo communities are patrilineal: males stay in their natal group while young adolescent females leave their natal community and appear to move between communities for a period of a few years before settling into one community and having their own offspring. The status of males appears to be affected by the presence of their mothers within the community or foraging party. Immigrant females tend to initiate affiliative behaviours with other bonobos. (J577.57.w1)

  • Since the recognition that it is the females that move between communities, and that the status of males may be affected by the presence of their mother, in both the Bonobo EEP and Bonobo SSP institutions have been working on transferring females between collections, during adolescence, while leaving males with their mothers, to mimic the wild situation. (D386.2.1.w2a, D386.3.2.w3b, D386.App1.w6)
    • An adolescent female preferably should be transferred into a group containing an older, established female with whom she can bond, as occurs in the wild. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • If males must be transferred, it is suggested that transfer occurs when they are older juveniles or young adolescents, 5 - 7 years of age, and that they be transferred into a group with other bonobos of the same age, with whom they can play. (D386.3.2.w3b)

Female bonobos appear to be sexually attractive over a longer proportion of the ir oestrous cycle than is seen in chimpanzees, and they return to oestrus sooner after parturition, but they mate less often during oestrus than do Pan troglodytes - Chimpanzees

  • Unlike in Pan troglodytes - Chimpanzee, there is no evidence for males coercing females for sex. (B577.6.w6, J611.4.w1) Rather females can choose their sexual partners. (B580.5.w5) In the wild, the dominant male in a given party has mating priority over the other males. (B586.10.w10)
  • While some genetic studies have indicated that dominant males sire more offspring (J179.266.w1), other studies have not confirmed this (J577.77.w2).

Not all females are dominant to all males, but females often form coalitions, and several females together in a zoo can "gang up" on a male and even inflict serious injuries. Males do not appear to form coalitions (unlike Pan troglodytes - Chimpanzees).

Integration of a new female into an existing group does not appear to be difficult.

San Diego Wild Animal Park has the following introduction protocol:

  • Carry out introductions in the off-exhibit, holding facility initially as this is where staff have most control and ability to intervene if this is necessary.
  • First allow auditory and visual contact between residents and newcomers.
  • If no obvious aggression results, release residents and the new bonobo into the indoor area. Ensure rooms are available for separation, and that doors are open to prevent any bonobo getting trapped.
  • Release all the bonobs into the exhibit if there is no aggression.
  • If for some reason the introduction is to take place in the exhibit, first give the newcomer access, so this individual has a chance t explore the exhibit and be familiar with escape routes, if aggression occurs.
  • If the initial introduction indicates a high risk of aggression, first introduce the newcomer to one individual who did not show aggression, and allw the two to bond, then try to re-introduce both together to the rest of the group, or introduce others to these, one by one.
  • In some cases, it has been effective to place the new bonobo with the aggressive individual: in the absence of other bonobos, they need and depend on each other and may bond, then can be re-introduced back t the group.
Examples of Introductions
  • When an adult female and her 1.5-year-old daughter were introduced into a resident group of bonobos at Stuttgart Zoo, Germany, it was noted that the whole integration occurred peacefully, without agonistic interactions. The main contacts were of the juvenile Stuttgart bonobos, Kichele and Kamiti, to the new female, Daniela (probably at least partly actually contacts to Daniela's infant, Eja), and of the new female, Daniela, to the oldest resident female, Kombote. Contacts between the resident juveniles and the incoming infant also catalysed contacts between the mothers of the juveniles and the new mother. The lower-raking female, Diatou, initiated more contacts with Daniela, often with sexual elements (e.g. G-G rubbing), than did the senior female, Kombote. After the first nine days of full cohabitation with the other bonobos, initiation of contacts by Daniela to other bonobos became similar in frequency to one another. Eja became the preferred play-mate of Kichele, she also often directed genital contacts towards the adult male, Masikini, particularly when he was tense and nervous. In the first two days of the introduction in the main show-room, Eja spent 90% of her time on her mother's belly or back, reducing back to about 30% (her previous normal) after more than two weeks. It appeared that contact between Eja and the other bonobos was mediated by her mother, allowing full integration only once she herself felt secure in the group. [1995](J576.36.w2)
  • When Kidogo II and Ludwig, two adolescent males, were to be reintroduced into the breeding group of bonobos at Plankendaal (three adult females, one with an infant offspring), and one adult male), initially the two adolescent males (and a third adolescent male, with disturbed behaviour), were housed together, in auditory and visual contact with the breeding group. First Ludwig was introduced to the senior female, with the second-ranked female, adult male, and female-with infant added in turn. The following day the procedure was repeated with Kidogo II. Ludwig and Kidogo II were then alternately placed with the group daily (the other remaining with Joey), and later, Ludwig and Kidogo II were placed with the group permanently. (D386.3.2.w3b - Case Report 1)
    • It was commented that, without the need to keep a companion with Joey, both Ludwig and Kidogu II could have been integrated with the group permanently within two days. (D386.3.2.w3b - Case Report 1)
    • The introductions were timed for when the lowest-ranking female was in the most swollen stage, to maximise her attractiveness and maximise her ability to profit from sexual behaviour leading to tension reduction during the introductory period. (D386.3.2.w3b - Case Report 1)
    • Small items of prefered foods were placed in the hall where the introductions took place, to increase tension levels to those occurring daily in the group. (D386.3.2.w3b - Case Report 1)
    • Displays took place between Desmond, the adult male in the group, and the new adolescent males, but no other aggressive interactions were seen. Other than when Kidogo was first placed with Dzeeta, grooming of conspecifics occurred within 30 minutes of introduction, initiated  by the introduced male, always, in the first introduction session, but thereafter by the introduced male or resident individuals. (D386.3.2.w3b - Case Report 1)
    • The males developed erections when introduced to the unfamiliar bonobos, but mating occurred only associated with food. (D386.3.2.w3b - Case Report 1)
    • Note: there were problems later with sporadic aggression by the group directed at Ludwig and Kidogo II. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • When a male, Zorba, was introduced into a group of one adult male, to adult females, two young females and two infants (male 1.5 years, female three years), initially he was placed in a cage adjacent to the other bonobos, so that they had both visual and auditory contact. In the following week he was allowe to access cages the group had never used, then the next week he was allowed to enter the group's cage and they were allowed to enter his cage. For the introduction, lots of preferred fruits were spread over the floor. Initially Zorba avoided the residents, who followed him, hooting loudly, then both males displayed, but within three minutes sexual interactions started between Zorba and all residents except the infants; such interactions continued for the first few hours. In the first week, "interactions between the two males were ambiguous" and the resident male displayed aggression to Zorba, particularly when females touched Zorba, but the situation gradually stabilised. (D386.3.2.w3b - Case Report 2)
    • One year later, Zorba was still the lowest-ranked and often the recipient of aggression in the group. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • An introduction of an adolescent female into a group of 1.2 adults, 0.2 adolescent and 1.1 juveniles at Stuttgard was successful. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • Introduction of an adolescent female to 1.1 adults, 1,0 adolescent and 0.1 juvenile at Cologne was successful (introduced to all group members simultaneously) but the adolescent female later monopolised the adult female and this prevented the adult female from mating with the male. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • A young adult female was successfully introduced to two adult males at Leipzig; later she and one of the males formed a colatition against the other male. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • An adult male was introduced to 1.1 adults at Berlin without problems. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • An adult male was introduced first to 1.1 adults at Antwerp, and settled into the group (2.1 before his introduction). (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • An adult male was successfully introduced to one adult female, an adolescent female and two juveniles (1.1) at Twycross. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • A hand-reared juvnile was successfult integrated back into the group at Twycross. (D386.3.2.w3b)
  • In situations with only a brief (if any) period of visual/tactile contact before introduction, the following have been successful: (D386.3.2.w3b) 
    • Adolescent females introduced to a mixed age/sex group at San Diego. (D386.3.2.w3b)
    • Pre-adolescent and young-adolescent males integrated into a group with one adult male and several adult females at San Diego. (D386.3.2.w3b)
    • Four adult males introduced to form an all-male group at Fort Worth.  (D386.3.2.w3b)
    • An adult female with a male infant introduced into a mixed age/sex group at Milwaukee. (D386.3.2.w3b)
    • Adult females into groups of single adult male, multiple adult females - at Cincinnati, Yerkes and San Diego. (D386.3.2.w3b)

Removal of individuals from the group, as well as introductions, can have effects on the dynamics of the group. It has been suggested that this be considered when choosing the timing of bonobo moves, particularly if there is a large difference in the available living area between seasons (e.g. large outdoor area available in summer but nor in winter) with the timing of changes set in summer in such a situation, when the larger space available assists in reducing tensions in the group. (P86.5.w2)

  • At Frankfurt Zoo, when a non-breeding female with an apparent hormonal disturbance was removed from the group, the rest of the group became more relaxed. Introduction of a new young female occurred without any aggression. (B437.w24)
  • At Plankendaal, when two middle-ranked females were removed from the group during winter, there was an increase in tension particularly affecting the males who had ranked below these females. It was suggested that this was due to a void in the dominance hierarchy and competition between the males for higher ranking positions. (P86.5.w2)
  • Response to separation: A female and her infant showed only transitory signs of distress (changes in behaviour for up to four days) when the older adolescent daughter of the female was removed to another collection. (P86.5.w4)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Stress, Behavioural Problems and Stereotypic Behaviour

Animals may show abnormal levels of behaviours in captivity, either reduced activity or hyperactivity. Stereotypies are a common form of abnormal behaviour. (B429.31.w31, P73.4.w2)

The presence of stereotypies in zoo animals should be taken as a warning sign of potential suboptimal conditions and welfare problems. (J54.24.w2, P73.4.w2) However, once an animal has developed stereotypic behaviour, this behaviour may continue even if the animal is provided with an appropriate enclosure, social environment and behavioural enrichment. Stopping such a behaviour may be very difficult and the presence of such a behaviour does not necessarily indicate that the animal's current enclosure, management and well-being is substandard. (J54.24.w2) 

  • Stereotypic behaviour develops due to primary behaviour patterns that the animal is motivated to perform but in an environment in which this primary behaviour cannot reach a normal endpoint, for example because the external environment lacks the stimuli necessary to couple the behaviour with its appropriate consequences. (B439.11.w11)
  • Stereotypies in many animals are commonly associated with anticipation of feeding (seen before the usual feeding time), and may also be seen post-feeding related to food caching behaviour. (B429.31.w31, B439.11.w11)
  • Stereotypies may be associated with the inability to seek out mates, or lack of means to hide from perceived predators (whether other animals or humans) or dominant conspecifics.

Stress and abnormal behaviours may be reduced by providing animals with an environment which is of a biologically appropriate complexity and with control over their environment. Examples include:

  • The presence of substrates such as soil, leaf litter, vegetation.
    • These increase the environment's "information content", concealing smells, food, naturally-occurring insects etc, and eliciting exploratory and forging behaviours.
  • Provision of hiding places (by use of landscaping and/or barriers), vantage points, escape routes etc. which the animals can choose to make use of.
  • Varying microclimates - temperature gradients, shaded and sunny areas etc. - allowing animals to move to an area which is at a comfortable temperature at a particular time.
  • Providing buttons, ropes or other means by which animals can manipulate light, turn on a shower etc.
  • Providing objects (toys) which animals can interact with.
  • Adapting feeding methods to increase foraging and food handling times (scatter feeding, hiding food, use of puzzle feeders, whole food which require manipulation prior to eating, etc.).
  • Puzzle feeders and other cognitive challenges, including training, which can act as cognitive enrichment. 
  • Providing access to different areas, e.g. access during the daytime to holding pens/night accommodation in addition to the main enclosure.

The goals of enrichment activities include:

  1. "Increasing environmental novelty, change and complexity, to provide animals with meaningful interactions with their surroundings, diversify their behaviour and mediate social interactions.
  2. "Presenting cognitive challenges, such as learning what a trainer is requesting or solving a problem.
  3. "Meeting specific behavioural needs, such as a need for shelter/hiding or foraging, to encourage the expression of species-appropriate behaviour.
  4. Stimulating and mediating social interactions by providing social groupings of appropriate sex ratio, age class, genetic relatedness and experience."


Environmental enrichment may act to reduce stereotypic behaviour by different means: by increasing the animal's sensory stimulation, making the environment less predictable and increasing the animal's overall level of activity, by reducing its motivation to perform a given behaviour, or by providing it with the opportunity to engage in more appropriate behaviours (e.g. by providing it with the stimuli it is naturally motivated to seek). 

  • In order to maximise the likelihood that enrichment will eliminate stereotypic behaviours, it is necessary to determine the types of behaviours which the animal(s) are motivated to perform and then consider what external stimuli can be provided to functionally satisfy the motivation. (B439.11.w11)
  • A recent meta-analysis indicate that provision of enrichment substantially reduces stereotypic behaviour. (J54.25.w1)
  • While practically all forms of enrichment may reduce negative behaviours initially, a continuing effect is likely to depend on appropriate enrichment which continues to stimulate animals over a period of time. (J54.25.w1)

(B429.31.w31, B439.11.w11, J4.223.w2, J23.38.w4, J54.24.w2, J54.25.w1, J434.73.w1)

Bear Consideration

Stress can be reduced by giving bears some control over their environment, including their ability to get away from perceived danger as well as to move about freely and be able to explore their environment. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Bears in "traditional", unenriched enclosures are often inactive and may be considered "bored" by visitors. (J54.11.w1)
  • Several polar bears have appeared to be stressed by loud noises, such as fun fairs, or construction sites, near their enclosures. (B407.w4)
Stereotypic behaviour
  • Common stereotypic behaviours in bears include "pacing, head swinging, weaving, rubbing against or gnawing bars, circular or to-and-fro swimming, and excessive grooming." (N4.23.w1)
  • A survey of zoo bears in the 1970s found that for the most commonly kept species, begging was most commonly seen in Ursus arctos - Brown bear while stereotypic behaviours were seen more in Ursus maritimus - Polar bear and Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear. (J23.18.w4)
  • A study of Ursus maritimus - Polar bear noted that stereotypic behaviour in this species was "particularly common and resistant to change." While the routine followed by different individuals varied, the stereotypic bouts of each bear were very predictable and change-resistant; to-and-fro pacing was most common, but stereotypical behaviour also occurred in water. The level of such behaviour varied seasonally but the seasons in which stereotypical behaviour was greatest or lowest varied between bears; males generally showed the highest levels of stereotypy in spring, possibly associated with the breeding season. Individual variation extended even to twin sisters, with one female exhibiting much more stereotypical behaviour than the other, suggesting there may be individual differences in susceptibility to the development of stereotypy. Past experiences were also considered to influence stereotypy, with a male which had been in a circus continuing to perform stereotypic behaviour as if in the travelling wagon, despite being in a better enclosure. (B446.w6)
  • Stereotypies are commonly seen in polar bears in zoos. (B407.w4, J54.10.w1)
  • It has been suggested that stereotypies in zoo Ursus maritimus - Polar bears are related to migratory activity of wild bears. However, it has also been suggested instead that they are due to frustrated appetitive behaviour. (J54.10.w1) 
    • Stereotypies in bears in zoos may result from husbandry methods which fail to give the bears adequate opportunities for foraging and food handling. (P36.1994.w4)
    • A study of individually-caged Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bears and Helarctos malayanus - Sun bears found that stereotypic behaviour was inversely correlated with inactivity, increased with age, peaked prior to feeding and was generally carried out in locations from which the bear could view the arrival of food. It also occurred near another bear (particularly in the Asiatic bears). (J54.23.w1)
    • A study of an Ursus americanus - American black bear found that stereotypic behaviour peaked in the three hours before daily feeding (with smaller peaks at other times of the day). Further study showed that while there was an overall pre-feeding peak and an afternoon, peak, there were seasonal differences: in June and July (normal time for mating in the wild) the behaviour peaked after feeding, in the afternoon and evening, while in September to November, it peaked mainly before feeding. (B439.11.w11)
    • A study at Cologne zoo found that two Ursus maritimus - Polar bear cubs showed stereotypic behaviour close to feeding times. (B445.w23)
    • In Ursus maritimus - Polar bear, stereotypic behaviour in males may increase in the breeding season; this may be associated with the unnatural social system - bears being kept as a pair. (B407.w4)
  • A careful study may be required to determine the cause of stereotypic behaviour in individual bears. In a study with three Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bears in a large, complex exhibit at Zurich Zoo, observation indicated that one female bear performed stereotypic behaviour when environmental conditions (temperature, wind, rain) prevented her from resting on her preferred platform after feeding (stereotypic behaviour ceased in summer once trees provided shaded resting sites). The male bear paced during the breeding season once a female would no longer copulate (an apparent reaction to social frustration). It was noted that neither the large, complex enclosure nor enriched feeding methods prevented these bears from undertaking their (previously-developed) stereotypies, but no stereotypies were found in the third bear, a younger female. (J54.18.w2)
  • In two Helarctos malayanus - Sun bears, while provision of specific enrichment such as a browse feeder did reduce stereotypic behaviour while the bears were actually making use of the device, observation and comparison of the bears suggested that provision of opportunities for nesting off the ground might be important for the bears. (N19.10.w2, N19.13.w)
  • Stereotypic behaviours are very common in bears rescued from bear bile farms. Swaying, pacing, circling, rolling, head rolling, sucking paws and tongue flipping are some of the more common behaviours. Occasionally a bear will self-mutilate by pulling out its fur or chewing on a limb. (V.89)
    • In most bears, stereotypic behaviour decreases once the bear has been at the rescue centre for a week or so. (V.89)
    • In some bears, destructive behaviour is sufficiently severe and persistent that a period of medication is required. (V.89)
Prevention and treatment of abnormal behaviours in bears

Preventing the development of abnormal behaviours, including stereotypic behaviours and begging, requires an understanding of the factors which lead to the development of such behaviours, and provision of keeping conditions (enclosure design, provision of enrichment, social grouping, visitor education) which promote natural behaviours and do not encourage the development of unnatural behaviours.

  • Example: At San Diego Zoo, when a pair of orphaned Ursus maritimus - Polar bear cubs arrived, considerable investment was made in the development and use of a variety of enrichment, particularly non-food enrichment items, allowing the bears (the new bears and two older bears) to entertain themselves. Additionally, daily training based on positive reinforcement was used for routine management and to allow e.g. veterinary monitoring. A key element was communication, both between keepers to maintain consistence, and between the keepers and the animals, to make it very clear to the bears what was being asked of them. (P82.7.w1)
While bears may develop stereotypies due to time spent in inappropriate enclosures with inadequate management and enrichment, unfortunately treating and reducing such behaviours is not simple; a bear may not cease stereotypic behaviour simply because it is moved to a larger, more complex enclosure with multiple enrichment opportunities. (J434.67.w1, N19.9.w2) Other abnormal behaviours may develop in response to external stimuli - for example begging behaviours in response to food offered by the public. It is important to consider that multiple factors may be leading to stereotypic behaviour in a given individual - e.g. inadequate opportunities for foraging in combination with lack of availability of preferred nest sites, insufficient opportunities for climbing, inability to get out of sight of other bears, general boredom and/or lack of choice. 

Treatment of stereotypies and other abnormal behaviours may involve combinations of enclosure modification, feeding modification, other enrichment and use of behaviour-modifying drugs.

  • Because many bears show stereotypical behaviour when expecting food, and increased stereotypic behaviour on days when they are not fed, "bears benefit if their food expectations are met promptly (as early in the morning as possible), and regularly (no starve days). (B446.w4)
  • An experiment in a large enclosure (two hectare forested enclosure) found that active and foraging behaviours increased significantly when feeding was increased from three to six times daily. (J345.12.w1)
  • Providing bears with choice and an element of control over their environment may reduce stereotypic behaviour. (J434.73.w1)
    • When adult sibling polar bears were given access to their holding dens during the day (where they could not be seen by visitors), they showed decreased pacing and increased social play; they also increased swimming (significant only in the male). Time out of view of the public increased from 2.1% to 4.3% of the time; both bears were out of view at the same time for only 2.1% of the time. The bears also showed an increased frequency of social play. The fact that the bears spent only a little time in the dens indicated that the benefits were probably associated with the provision of the choice to enter the dens, rather than the actual time which there bears spent in the dens. (J434.73.w1)
  • It should not be assumed that a single form of enrichment will remove all stereotypic behaviour from a bear. (N19.10.w2)
Treatment and prevention of abnormal behaviours in bears by enrichment
  • When Ursus maritimus - Polar bears were provided with apparatus allowing them to "order" fish by vocalising near a microphone, begging behaviours were reduced. (B467.6.w6) Added benefits of this included:
    • Increased the visitors' appreciation of the bears' activities and abilities (e.g. diving into the pool and swimming to retrieve fish they had "ordered");
    • Decreased aggression between two bears (when the apparatus delivered food in two different areas of the enclosure simultaneously);
    • Increased fitness and improved, more normal fat deposition in one of the bears;
    • Reduced offering of junk food to the bears by visitors.


  • Polar Bear Shores, Sea World Australia, simulates a natural summer arctic environment and provides enrichment by:
    • Enclosure design: natural furnishings such as logs, rocks, digging pits, natural foliage, salt water and freshwater pools, varying artificially generated "weather".
    • Sensory stimulation: olfactory, tactile, taste and visual.
    • Provision of novel objects: natural (moveable logs, bamboo, tree stumps, browse) and non-natural (toys), ropes, containers etc.
    • Feeding methods: scatter feeding, hidden foods, food in iceblocks etc.
    • Social groupings: rotation of bears between main exhibit and back of house areas, allowing solitude or close proximity; naturalistic exhibit with visual barriers such as large logs and rock formations;
    • Behavioural training (operant conditioning).


  • At Auckland Zoo, during a four-week trial, a variety of enrichments - logs smeared with Marmite in week one, novel objects (plastic bucket, tractor tyre, plastic barrel) in week two, food logs in week three and live food (catfish and eels), novel objects and obstacles on a pacing route in week four, were provided for two polar bears. It was found that the female's level of stereotyping decreased in three of the four weeks, while the male's stereotypic behaviour, which was more frequent and less variant, decreased only when live food was given. (N4.23.w1)
  • A study of Kodiak bears (Ursus arctos - Brown bear), Ursus maritimus - Polar bears and Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear at Zoo Atlanta, found that in general, provision of enrichment (feeding enrichment in the form of browse for the Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear and food frozen into ice blocks for the other bears) resulted in higher levels of active behaviours, lower levels of inactive behaviours and reductions in abnormal activities. (J54.11.w1)
  • A study on Malayan sun bears (Helarctos malayanus - Sun bear) at Taipei Zoo found that changing the feeding pattern so that, instead of one feed of dog pellets in the early morning and the rest of the feed in the late afternoon, some foods were hidden in and scattered over the enclosure, with less food being given as a main meal at the end of the day, resulted in increases in the times spent in feeding (4.51% increased to 25.69%), exploratory behaviour (20.84% increased to 31.52%) and locomotion (increased from 5.45% to 9.64%), and decreases in the times spent inactive (24.22% reduced to 19.55%) and in stereotypic behaviours (31.83% reduced to 8.43%). (P82.5.w1)
  • A female Ursus maritimus - Polar bear at Sea World Australia showed stereotypic behaviour (developed prior to her arrival at this collection) despite a large enclosure incorporating several different enclosures. It was considered that anxiety was a major factor resulting in this behaviour. Changes were made including increasing the water temperature (since she appeared not to like cold water), ensuring that substrates were available on which the bears could dry off after emerging from the pool, keeping fans on to provide a breeze and providing access to all areas most of the time. These changes resulted in a decrease in the stereotypic behaviour to "negligible" levels. (P82.5.w2)
  • At San Diego Zoo, considerable investment was made in the development and use of a variety of enrichment, particularly non-food enrichment items, allowing two adult polar bears (as well as two newly-arrived orphaned cubs) to entertain themselves. Additionally, daily training based on positive reinforcement was used for routine management and to allow e.g. veterinary monitoring. A key element was communication, both between keepers to maintain consistency, and between the keepers and the animals, to make it very clear to the bears what was being asked of them; this was particularly important for the adult bears. Implementation of the new routines and enrichment (over the period 2001-2003) produced a large reduction in pacing and repetitive swimming (stereotypic behaviours which the bears had carried out much of the time) to zero, as well as an increase in time spent playing from less than 10% to over 27%. The training also decreased stress of both bears and keepers, and improved the ability to manage the bears (e.g. in moving from the main exhibit to the "bedroom" area). (P82.7.w1)
  • Activity increased and time spent inactive decreased in Ursus arctos - Brown bear, Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear and two Ursus maritimus - Polar bear, each kept separately, when they were provided with enrichment (appropriate food items frozen into ice blocks. Frequencies of abnormal behaviours (which for most of the bears were present only at low levels) also decreased, significantly for one of the polar bears. (J54.11.w1)
  • In a solitary housed male Ursus americanus - American black bear, stereotypic behaviour associated with feeding was reduced by most of the food ration being hidden throughout the enclosure, providing increased foraging opportunities, while stereotypic behaviour not associated with feeding and thought to be related to the urge to find mates in summer was reduced when male and female bear urine-based hunting lures were sprayed on objects in the enclosure. (B439.11.w11)
  • For two Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bears, providing a climbing structure and introducing ice blocks containing food, and tyres containing food, both being hung on chains from the climbing structure, resulted in both bears spending less time stationary with their eyes closed, less time pacing for the male and more time foraging by both bears (particularly the male). Overall, they showed a wider use of the space in the enclosure and a more varied pattern of behaviour than was seen before the changes. (J419.73.w1)
  • For a rescued Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bear (confiscated from a circus) at the National Zoo in Chile, a variety of enrichment including adding various substrates and wooden logs, scent enrichment, food-based enrichment and provision of novel objects resulted in a significant (p<0.05) decrease in pacing behaviour and significant increases in times spent searching and interacting with enrichment items. (P82.7.w5)
  • For Helarctos malayanus - Sun bears at Adelaid zoo, provision of elevated sleeping opportunities (e.g. in trees or a fire hose hammock) appears to be helpful. (N19.13.w2)
  • At the Agra Bear Rescue Facility in India, 41 dancing bears are kept in three large, naturalistic enclosures with soil substrate, a pool, elevated wooden platforms natural vegetation including trees, and tree logs. Additional enrichment, including a hanging wooden log and scattered fruit, or a honey log, dry hay and green grass, or climbing branches and cage furnishings, all produced only a small increase in the amount of time spent foraging (from 12.7% to 14.5% with the scattered food), but reductions in the times spent on aggressive behaviour and fighting (19.9% reduced to 8.2-8.7%), and on stereotypic behaviours (30% reduced to 13.7-18.2%), while time spent in social interactions increased from 1.7 to 6.2-8.9%. (N18.51.w2)
  • Behavioural training can also be used as a form of enrichment for bears. It relies on the voluntary cooperation of the bears [which provides them with the choice of cooperating or not] and offers mental stimulation, as well as assisting with husbandry, preventative medicine and veterinary treatment, and reducing stress [since bears can be trained for routine husbandry and veterinary procedures]. (W643.June06.w4)
Treatment of abnormal behaviours in bears using behaviour-modifying drugs
  • Fluoxetine (a selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitor) was used successfully to treat stereotypical pacing behaviour, facial tic and huff/cough in a 26-year-old captive born female Ursus maritimus - Polar bear which had been pacing to varying degrees for more than 20 years. The bear was housed with another female polar bear in a concrete-floored enclosure enriched by partial covering with boulders, rocks, tree trunks, wood chips and pebbles, with access to a pool and with various foods offered. Fluoxetine was given at 1.32 mg/kg for the first seven days, then reduced (on advice) to 0.62 mg/kg (determined by allometric scaling) once daily for 77 days then increased to 1 mg/kg once daily (a daily dose of 260 mg, with capsules, 20 mg each, given hidden in herring - placing through the gill slits) for the final 21 days of treatment. Stereotypic pacing initially was exhibited for 68.6% of the day; in the sixth week this was notably reduced and had ceased by week 16 and stayed at zero while treatment continued. However, 14 days after treatment finished, pacing recurred sporadically, and by 104 days after cessation of treatment, it was back to pre-treatment levels. (J4.209.w2, P1.1996.w6, P82.2.w1)
    • It was noted that while on the treatment she was "spending more time walking about the enclosure, watching activity outside of the enclosure, and manipulating objects." It was noted that the response to the pharmaceutical treatment (with a serotonin-uptake inhibitor) suggested a role for the serotonergic system in stereotypic behaviours. At the higher dose levels (260 mg and above), the metabolite norfluoxetine was present at higher levels than the parent drug. (P82.2.w1)
  • Fluoxetine was used successfully to treat a rescued bear with severe behavioural problems. A 12-year-old male Ursus arctos - Brown bear had been kept, since a cub, first on the end of a short chain for two years and then in a small, dark, concrete-floored cage for a further eight years. When rescued, the bear was unable to interact with other bears (too frightened to leave the den if they were in the same enclosure) and spent 80% of his time pacing (all the time except when eating or sleeping) in a small area (20% of the 200 m² enclosure provided). He was treated with 0.62 mg/kg fluoxetine daily (capsules were hidden in bread). Observation revealed no change in pacing behaviour for the first 30 days of treatment, but a decrease in the number of pacing bouts on days 30-120, while during days 120-180 of treatment the pacing bouts became shorter and finally ceased. After 180 days, fluoxetine treatment was stopped and the bear was able to be transferred to a larger enclosure with other, very peaceful, bears, where he soon developed good relationships with other bears. No return to pacing was observed in the following year. (P6.6.w3)
  • Medical treatment has been used in bears, rescued from bear bile farms, which have severe disturbance considered likely to threaten their health and safety, shown by behaviours such as self mutilation, uninterrupted stereotypic activity and anorexia. Medical management is used alongside the provision of plentiful food and water, enrichment, and a "consistently kind environment." The combined management has been "highly successful in helping these bears recover normal behaviors." (P83.1.w1)
    • The following regime has been used by Animals Asia Foundation to treat severely disturbed bears considered likely to threaten their health and safety: Zuclopenthixol (trade name Clopixol) at an initial dose of 12.5 mg (1/2 a tablet) orally (for bears of about 90-150 kg body weight) once daily; the bear is observed for a week at this dose. If the bear shows no signs of sedation and the stress behaviour has not changed, then the dose is increased to 25 mg once daily orally. The dose may be increased incrementally up to 50 mg, to effect. If the bear becomes drowsy (the main side effect), the dose is reduced slightly (12.5 or 6.25 mg less). Once an effective dose is found, this is given for six weeks to several months. If the bear's behaviour appears stable for several weeks, the dose is decreased slightly and the bear is observed carefully. The medication is withdrawn incrementally, with five days between each dose decrease. (V.w89, V.w90)
  • A 33-year-old female Ursus maritimus - Polar bear with persistent bleeding due to rubbing of the perineal area on concrete during stereotypic pacing was given naltrexone (1.2 mg/kg daily orally), but treatment was discontinued after one month due to lack of any apparent effect on the bear's stereotypic pacing. (J4.205.w4)

Lagomorph Consideration

Litter tray. Click here for full page view with caption

Domestic rabbit
A variety of abnormal or unwanted behaviours may be seen in rabbits. Many can be be prevented or alleviated by understanding normal behaviour and by proper management based on this understanding. (J15.27.w2, J29.16.w8, J83.27.w1, J288.68.w1)
  • Fear is shown by crouching and freezing with the body hunched and the ears held flat back, by running away, or, as a last resort, by aggression. (J15.27.w2)
Stereotypic behaviour
  • Abnormal behaviours including stereotypies have been seen in rabbits kept in small cages or hutches. (B600.2.w2, J83.27.w1)
  • Stereotypic behaviours recorded in caged laboratory rabbits include: (J83.27.w1, W264.Dec08.w1)
    • Rhythmic biting of water bottles; 
    • Biting, chewing or licking of bars, food hoppers, walls and floor;
    • Pawing or digging in a corner;
    • Pawing the food hopper;
    • Excessive fur pulling/chewing/plucking;
    • Rapid circling (sometimes kicking the walls is a component of this behaviour);
    • Head swaying/weaving and vertical sliding of the nose between bars;
    • Pushing and shoving of the water spouts and hoppers with the head;

    (J83.27.w1, W264.Dec08.w1)

  • General timidity and restlessness may also be noticed. (J288.68.w1)
  • Abnormal behaviours are reduced in rabbits given environmental enrichment including companionship (access to another rabbit), access to hay, access to shelter and a look-out point. (J147.8.w1, J288.85.w1, J288.68.w1)
Aggression and Biting
  • Within Oryctolagus cuniculus domesticus - Domestic rabbits there is variety in temperament between rabbit breeds and individuals. (B618.8.w8)
  • Biting by a domestic rabbit may indicate fear, territoriality (particularly female rabbits), possessiveness about food, boredom, or pain. (B600.3.w3, D352, J15.27.w2 J29.16.w8, W720.Dec08.w1, N36.Jan05.w1)
    • For example, a rabbit scared by a loud noise or a predator may be aggressive to its companion. (N36.Jan05.w1)
  • Do not punish an aggressive rabbit - this confirms the rabbit's fear of humans. (D352)


  • Aggression by the rabbit while in its cage may indicate territoriality; alternately it may indicate fear. (J29.16.w8)
    • If a rabbit is territorially aggressive, an indoor cage/kennel can be cleaned while the rabbit is away from it; for cleaning the hutch, the rabbit can be confined into one area (e.g. by blocking the opening between the closed and wire-fronted compartments with a wooden board) and the other area cleaned; the board can be removed, and when the rabbit enters the cleaned are to investigate it, the board can be used to confine it there while the other section is cleaned. (B600.3.w3, B620)
    • Territoriality may be reduced by neutering; preferably neuter when the rabbit is young, before territorial aggression develops. (D352, W720.Dec08.w1)
    • Aggression by a female rabbit, towards a companion or owner, often occurs in spring, the normal breeding time. (D352)
  • If the rabbit is possessive about its food bowl, have two bowls and place new food in the second bowl, putting this down before lifting the first bowl up. Vary where the food bowl is placed. (W720.Dec08.w1)
  • Note: Aggression is often reduced if the rabbit has room and time to exercise, play, and get away from people - provide a stimulating area with enough space and toys. (B339.8.w8, D352)


Fear of handling
  • Rabbits which have not been properly socialised to human at an early age are more likely to be nervous or aggressive when handled. (J15.27.w2)
    • Socialisation needs to start before the kits are weaned; handling at 10 - 20 days old produces bolder rabbits, more confident with people. (B622.6.w6, N36.Jan05.w1)
  • Fear of handling often develops due to the rabbit feeling unsafe during handling. When subsequently a human approaches to pick it up, it will back into a corner and, if the human still approaches, it will bite. (J15.27.w2)
  • Fear of handling should be addressed as a long-term project, gradually getting the rabbit used to your company, then to being touched and finally to being picked up. (D352, W720.Dec08.w1)
    • First stop trying to pick up or handle the rabbit for a couple of weeks; offer the rabbit treats and talk to it calmly.
      • Make arrangements to manage it without needing to handle it:
        • Train it (using food) to enter a travel box on command. (W720.Dec08.w1)
        • Use food treats to move the rabbit from one part of the hutch to the other (sleeping compartment to open area), then clean the unoccupied section, move the rabbit to the other area with another food treat, and clean the second area.
      • Preferably do not try to do anything which may induce fear in the rabbit for at least four weeks. (J15.27.w2)
      • Offer it treats by hand; if it won't take them, look for treats better liked by that rabbit. (B622.6.w6, J15.27.w2)
      • Initially it may be necessary to sit quietly a few feet away from the rabbit. (J29.16.w8)
      • Treats could be scattered around the sitting human; the rabbit can approach gradually as near as it can do comfortably, and develop an association of the human with palatable treats. (J29.16.w8)
    • Once the rabbit is more relaxed in the presence of a human, and approaches for a treat when the human appears, start stroking it. If it is still aggressive, initially use a soft long-handled brush; when the rabbit is used to being touched with the brush and doesn't bite, you can try touching gently with your hand. (B620, B622.6.w6, D352, J15.27.w2)
      • Initially touch the less sensitive areas - the forehead and back. (J15.27.w2)
      • If the rabbit bites the brush, leave the brush still so the rabbit learns biting does not have the effect of making the interaction stop. (B622.6.w6)
    • Once it is used to being brushed and stroked, gradually increase the parts of the rabbit being touched. (D352)
    • When it is more used to being stroked, start placing hands around the shoulders and hindquarters of the rabbit - as if to lift it. (B622.6.w6, J15.27.w2)
    • Once it is used to being stroked and touched, try picking the rabbit up gradually - e.g. initially being scooped onto a lap for a treat. (J15.27.w2, B622.6.w6, D352)
      • Make sure it is picked up correctly, with one hand under the chest between the front legs and the other hand under the rump, so it feels securely supported. (B622.6.w6)
      • Note: keeping the rabbit feeling secure is very important when it is being put down; covering its eyes with a hand or the crook of an arm may be helpful. (B622.6.w6)
    • Note: if at any time the rabbit starts to panic or avoid contact, stop the handling session. (J15.27.w2)
    • Additionally, ensure that the rabbit is provided with a stimulating environment - see sections below - so it is less likely to be frustrated. (B620)
  • Make sure young rabbits get used to being around people, and being handled, from an early age. (D352, J15.27.w2)
    • Domestic rabbit kits should be handled regularly and frequently once they start moving around, to improve their tameness and make them better pets. (B338.1.w1)
    • Experimentally, brief (a few seconds, touching each kit to check they were still alive), carried out in the first half hour after the kits nursed, was found to be sufficient to reduce fear responses to humans. (J288.95.w1)
  • Rabbits will feel more secure and be less likely to bite, if picked up correctly, for example with one hand under the rump, taking the rabbit's weight, while the other hand is across the shoulders and supporting the chest with the fingers. (D352)
    • Further information on handling is provided in Mammal Handling & Movement
    • Do not pick up a rabbit by the ears, nor lift it by the scruff without supporting the hind end. (B600.3.w3, B601.2.w2, B602.14.w14, B604.2.w2, J29.16.w8, D352)
    • Ensure that all human members of the household are properly taught how to pick up and hold a rabbit. (J29.16.w8)
    • Do not allow young children to carry rabbits. (J29.16.w8)
  • In extreme cases, in which the rabbit charges at and bites humans to get the humans to retreat, a technique known as "flooding" can be used, in which a human wearing suitable protection (e.g. heavy denim trousers, solid shoes, long thick leather gloves over the hands and arms) approaches the rabbit to within its charging distance, then simply sits still if the rabbit attacks, teaching the rabbit that this behaviour is no longer effective at making the human retreat. Once it stops attacking, the rabbit can be given treats, so it associates humans with positive experiences. (J29.16.w8)
  • See also: D352 - Biting the hand that feeds. The Rabbit Welfare Fund Guide to Aggressive Rabbits - full text included
  • If the methods indicated above are not effective, advice and assistance may be needed - try contacting the Rabbit Welfare Association or ask your veterinary surgeon about pet behaviour counsellors. (D352)
Inappropriate scent-marking / urine spraying / failure to use the litter tray
Litter training failure
  • General failure to use the litter tray can be addressed by training. (J29.16.w8)
    • Rabbits generally use a specific place or places for elimination. (J29.16.w8)
    • An easy way to train a rabbit to use a litter tray is to place the tray where the rabbit has chosen as its main elimination site. (J15.27.w2, J29.16.w8)
      • This allows the rabbit to choose a site where it feels secure. (J15.27.w2)
    • If the rabbit is confined to a cage for part of the time, the litter tray should be put in the part of the cage where the rabbit chooses to eliminate. If the rabbit is not confined in a cage but is confined to part of the house (e.g. a specific room), the litter tray can be placed where the rabbit chooses for elimination in that room. (J29.16.w8)
      • Initially the rabbit should be confined to the cage or room (as relevant) containing the litter box, and should be allowed to roam more freely only once it is regularly using the litter box. (J29.16.w8)
  • If the rabbit stops using the litter tray when this is placed in the rabbit's preferred location, try different litters. (J29.16.w8)
    • If the rabbit uses the litter provided, avoid changing the litter. (J15.27.w2)
    • Be wary of cleaning out the litter tray excessively, as the residual smell helps encourage use of the tray. (J15.27.w2)
    •  For more information on litters see Accommodation Design for Mammals - Housing/Denning Facilities
  • If the rabbit urinates or defecates over the sides of the tray, a tray which is larger and/or has taller sides may be needed. (J29.16.w8)
  • if the rabbit pushes their litter box around, or grabs a side with its mouth and moves the tray, it may be necessary to fix the tray in place. (J29.16.w8)
  • If the rabbit is allowed access to a large area (e.g. much of the house), provision of several litter boxes around the house may be needed. (J29.16.w8)
  • Loss of litter tray training may occur due to stress or illness, including e.g. the stress of a new pet entering the household. In these cases it is necessary to address the cause of the problem, then re-address litter tray training. (J29.16.w8)
  • Note:
    • Rabbits will be reluctant to use a litter tray if they feel the area is insecure or too busy. (J15.27.w2)
    • Rabbits often lose their litter training at puberty; at this time they mark anything prominent with urine/piles of droppings. (N36.Jan05.w1)
    • If a rabbit starts using the "wrong" area, for whatever reason, it will tend to continue doing so because of the odours remaining there. (N36.Jan05.w1)

Scent marking

  • Scent is very important in the social communication of rabbits. (J15.27.w2)
  • Entire male rabbits in particular will rub the chin on certain landmarks to scent-mark it and indicate their territory; females will also scent mark, but the gland is less well developed. (B602.13.w13, B618.8.w8)
  • Entire males will urine spray, including spraying urine on their owner's feet/lower legs (in springtime, as a sign of sexual interest); this can be prevented by castration. (J15.27.w2, J29.16.w8, D349, W720.Dec08.w1)
  • Entire males will also deposit strong-smelling droppings in scattered locations to mark their territory. (B602.13.w13, B618.8.w8)
  • Rabbits may scent mark, including urinating and defecating, on sofas or beds - areas smelling strongly of the owner - to mingle their scents for reassurance (e.g. if feeling threatened by a new pet), or with unneutered rabbits, as a form of dominance behaviour. (J15.27.w2)
    • If a rabbit persistently (i.e. more than as a one-off) soiled furniture, consider the possibility that the rabbit is marking its territory. (B620) To correct this behaviour:
      • First deny the rabbit access to that area for at least two weeks, and clean it thoroughly. 
      • Reinforce toilet training - confine the rabbit to its cage/indoor hutch (with tray) when unsupervised, and give praise/treats as a reward when you see the rabbit using the tray.
      • Gradually allow access to the room where the soiling occurred, first for only short periods and without allowing access to the furniture or unsupervised access to the room.
      • Increase the time the rabbit is allowed in the area gradually.


Digging / Tunnel digging
  • This is a normal behaviour of Oryctolagus cuniculus - European rabbit but can be a problem with rabbits running free in the garden. Very deep tunnels are generally dug only by pregnant or pseudopregnant females. (B618.8.w8)
  • Generally, fencing 30 cm deep under the ground should be adequate to keep a rabbit in. (B618.8.w8)
  • You can give rabbits a place to dig, such as a child's plastic sandpit, half-filled with sand and peat. (W720.Dec08.w1)
  • A digging box should be large enough to turn around in and tall enough for the rabbit to dig down her own height. (B624)
  • To prevent digging up of carpets in the house, which often occurs in corners, place a square of carpet over the main carpet in the corner, or strategically place pieces of furniture in the corners, (N34.Summer2008.w1), or place a seagrass doormat (safe for chewing and digging) in the corner. (D349)
  • Get a large cardboard role (used for carpets) and place behind the sofa for the rabbit to run into and dig in, or roll up an old piece of carpet. (B622.6.w6, B624, N34.Winter07.w3)
  • Chewing is a normal behaviour for rabbits, but can be destructive, particularly with house rabbits. (B624)
  • Protect electric cables. (D349, B339.8.w8, B622.6.w6, J29.16.w8, N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • Block off access to vulnerable areas, if possible. (D349)
  • Protect furnishings and skirting boards:
    • Attach clear Perspex over skirting boards or wallpaper. (B622.6.w6, D349) or provide a block of untreated pine, nailed to the skirting board or other furniture, for the rabbit to chew. (W720.Dec08.w1)
    • Use a taste-deterrent such as eucalyptus oil or bitter apple spray on furniture legs to discourage chewing
  • Keep valuable and easily damaged items (books, magazines etc.) out of the reach of rabbits. (B622.6.w6,J29.16.w8)
  • Provide adequate amounts of food high in indigestible fibre. (B600.2.w2)
  • Provide hay, fruit tree branches branches and objects which the rabbit is allowed to chew and enjoy (B622.6.w6, J29.16.w8, D349) - see section below: Provision of Manipulable Objects/Toys
  • Hide food in hay for the rabbit to find. (B622.6.w6)
  • Ensure adequate companionship. (B622.6.w6)
Aggression between rabbits
  • Rabbits can be very aggressive to a rabbit they are unfamiliar with. (J29.16.w8)
  • Rabbits should be introduced to one another gradually. (J29.16.w8)
  • Sometimes two rabbits will not accept one another and need to be kept separately. (J29.16.w8)
  • Aggression can be due to fear - of the other rabbit, or associated with fear of an external stimulus. (J15.27.w2)
    • Try keeping the rabbits apart, but bringing them together when they are fed, so that they associated the other rabbit with the pleasurable experience of feeding.
    • If necessary (e.g. if one rabbit runs away from the other one), put them into adjacent hutches; this should reduce the fear level. (J15.27.w2)
  • Aggression between two rabbits of the same sex is most likely to develop during the normal breeding season. This is less evident in neutered individuals. (J15.27.w2)
  • Aggression can develop between rabbits as they reach puberty; they can be neutered then reintroduced. (B620)
  • If two rabbits are showing aggressive behaviour to each other but this is not so severe that they have to be kept separately, ensure that competition for resources is minimised: have at least two food bowls, water bottles, retreat areas etc., and give them access to as mush space as possible. (J15.27.w2)
  • If separation is required, have both rabbits neutered and wait until outside the breeding season to reintroduce them, initially on neutral territory. (J15.27.w2) 
  • Note: neutering will not assist if aggression is due to one or both rabbits being fearful. (J15.27.w2)
Abandonment and killing/cannibalism of young
  • Rabbit does may kill the young of other does kept in the same area. (J29.16.w8)
  • Rabbits may kill their own young in overcrowded conditions (e.g. intact males and females housed together in a pen of insufficient size). (J29.16.w8) or in conditions of environmental stress. (J82.14.w1)
  • Cannibalism, which generally occurs in the first day after parturition, may occur due to nervousness, inadequate nutrition or disturbance; there is an increased risk of a nervous doe cannibalising her young if she is disturbed e.g. by nest inspections. (B550.16.w16)
  • Note: rabbits show "absentee parenting" - they generally leave their young alone except to suckle them once or sometimes twice a day. It is important to realise this is normal behaviour and does not mean the doe has abandoned her kits. Indeed, it is important to ensure that the female can get away from her kits. (J15.27.w2, J82.16.w1, J40.35.w3)
  • For further information on management of breeding females and their kits see Rearing of Mammals
Wild lagomorphs
  • Lagomorphs may kill their own young in overcrowded conditions or in conditions of environmental stress. (J82.14.w1)
Ferret Consideration
  • Ferrets may be stressed if they are denied a dark enclosed place for sleeping. (B602.1.w1)
  • Ferrets not given the opportunity for rough-and-tumble social play as kits may develop long-lasting hyperactivity. (W264.Sept11.w1)
Bonobo Consideration Stress and behavioural problems are sometime seen in bonobos.
Regurgitation and reingestion

Regurgitation and reingestion of food is recognised in all the great apes in captivity. In gorillas, in which this behaviour is commonly noted, providing large quantities of browse can reduce the behaviour.

  • In bonobos, the behaviour, at least in the form "manually assisted regurgitation and reingestion", in which the bonobo sticks its own hand down its throat to promote regurgitation, appears to be socially learned, but the motivation to continue exhibiting the behaviour may vary between individuals. Expression of this behaviour in bonobos at Planckendael Wild Animal Park, Belgium was reduced fruit in the diet was reduced. Different individuals performed the behaviour more after being given certain foods (i.e. there were different trigger foods for different individuals). There was no reduction in the behaviour when the bonobos were given browse, and there was no difference in its expression depending on whether or not the bonobos had access to the outdoor as well as their indoor enclosure. (P86.13.w2)
Ingestion of faeces
Ear covering
  • Ear covering has been noted in bonobos (and in other great apes) in captivity, including by six bonobos in four different zoos. (P129.1.w4)
    • In general, ear covering by great apes appears to occur (at least initially) in response to a specific stressor such as loud noise, rainstorms, shifting of the animals, death of a member of the group, separation from certain other members of the group, relocation or group composition change. (P129.1.w4)
    • The circumstances are usually those in which the individual might be uncertain what is happening and might indicate insecurity. (P129.1.w4)
    • In some individual great apes, ear covering appears to become habitual and a self-comfort behaviour. (P129.1.w4)
    • In one female bonobo, ear covering initially was seen following a move to a new enclosure but then appeared to develop into an attention-seeking behaviour, since other members of the group responded to her ear covering by performing comforting interactions such as grooming. (P129.1.w4)
    • Another bonobos covered her ears in response to removal of an infant and another combined ear covering and bipedal locomotion during group formation. (P129.1.w4)
Anxiety and Self-mutilation
  • Combined medical and behavioural therapy were used in the treatment of a  young (8.5 years) male bonobo which arriving at the Milwaukee County Zoo, Wisconsin, USA, showing a variety of abnormal behaviours which were thought to be due to anxiety and chronic stress, the juvenile having been regularly intimidated by his father in his birth group, and then housed alone for eight months. (P20.1998.w13)
    • Abnormal behaviours included "inserting its fist into its rectum, inducing vomition, pacing, constant hand-clapping, rubbing genitalia on sharp objects, self-mutilation by ripping at fingernails and toenails, inability to sleep or rest during the day, spitting and generalized aggression towards the keepers." The bonobo was also fearful of novel objects such as new foods and toys (which made providing enrichment problematic). (P20.1998.w13)
    • During an initial quarantine period, desired behaviours were praised, undesirable behaviours ignored, and frequent small feeds given; this produced some improvement in behaviour, which plateaued after several weeks. Some additional improvements occurred after the quarantine period when the bonobos was provided with a predictable routine and social contact with gentle, friendly bonobos in small groups. (P20.1998.w13)
    • Considerable improvement occurred through a combination of medical therapy and behavioural efforts. The bonobo was given the highly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor paroxetine (Paxil, SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA), used in human medicine in the treatment of depression, panic disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders), together with gradual socialisation to other bonobos, an emphasis on calm, positive interactions with the keepers, and multiple (five or more a day) short sessions of positive reinforcement training sessions). The initial dose was 10 mg orally once daily, increased after five days to 10 mg twice daily. Calmer behaviour was seen within a week and cessation of self-induced vomiting within two weeks. The bonobo started eating more slowly, was able to sleep/rest during the day, stopped pacing, had an increased attention span in training sessions and showed reduced aggression towards keepers; the "fisting" behaviour was reduced but still occurred at times of high anxiety such as just before feeds. Diazepam (2.5 mg once daily, in the morning) was given for a short time but had only moderate additional effect and was poorly accepted, therefore discontinued. (P20.1998.w13)
      • Previous treatment with fluoxetine (Prozac, Eli Lilly & Co, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA) at 16 mg once daily orally had produced some improvement (reduced frequency and severity of "fisting" behaviour). Acepromazine 12.5 mg orally every eight hours had not been effective. (P20.1998.w13)
Stress reduction
  • To minimise psychological stress in primates, it is particularly important to ensure that their human caretakers genuinely care for the animals and will show consideration to their charges at all times, even when the primate may be trying to injure the caretaker. (B10.44.w44f)
  • It is probable (although not proven) that providing primates with more control over their encounters with humans, for example by enclosure design, is likely to reduce stress. (J288.90.w1)
  • While primates may find exposure to humans (zoo visitors) stimulating, this can also be stressful. A relatively simple way in which this stress can be reduced is by the addition of camouflage netting on the visitor side of the viewing windows. This was found to be effective with gorillas and was also positively regarded by the visitors. (P86.5.w5)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Enclosure Design to meet Behavioural Requirements

Enclosures should be designed to fulfil not only the physical needs of the inhabitants but also their psychological needs.
  • A well designed enclosure is one in which the animals are "active, in a natural fashion, and where they will breed." (J23.18.w4)
  • The enclosure design should consider the animals' need for movement, including climbing, swimming, swinging etc. as appropriate; foraging; resting and retreating; grooming; breeding and rearing young; companionship and/or solitude.
  • Natural substrates are generally preferable, enabling the animals to dig, graze etc. as appropriate for the species. 
  • Many species will use a dust-bathing area, if available.
  • Semi-aquatic species and any other species which bathe should be provided with an appropriate water area for bathing or swimming, in addition to drinking water.
  • For other species, mud wallows are more important.

(B33.1.w1, B105.20.w5, B438.7.w7, B469.3.w3, J23.18.w4, V.w5)

Further information on enclosure designs is provided in Accommodation Design for Mammals (Mammal Husbandry and Management)

Bear Consideration

Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption  Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption

Enclosures should be as large as possible. In a 1970s survey, Ursus maritimus - Polar bears were found to show less stereotypies in larger enclosures, and both polar bears and Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bears had bred more in larger enclosures. (J23.18.w4, P36.1994.w4)

Enclosure size is not the only important element. Enclosure complexity is important: bear enclosures should provide a complex environment with natural substrates to encourage digging, scratching, foraging, nesting and burrowing, scratching, bathing and swimming. All the bears which climb should have structures available providing various heights, climbing challenges and exposures to the elements, and which lead to rewards such as food and vantage points. Note: it is easier to provide complexity within a large enclosure than within a small enclosure. (B407.w7, P36.1994.w4)

As far as possible, enclosures should reproduce the natural environment inhabited by the bears. (D265.6.w6) Bear species vary in their natural habitats and behaviours, and there are differences in preferred enclosure design between bear species. (D265.6.w6) Note: The local climate should be taken into account in providing the functional areas such as feeding sites, resting areas, vantage points etc. (D247.2.w2)

General design and topography
  • Enclosure topography is important. 
    • Old-style "bear pits" do not give bears the opportunity to look around, and should not be used (J433.9.w2) while an enclosure which rises up or is built on a hill side provides much more viewing opportunities for the bears. (B407.w5)
    • Terraces, while common in bear enclosures, may not be liked by the bears, particularly Ursus maritimus - Polar bears but also other species. (D265.6.w6, J23.18.w4, J433.9.w2)
    • The topography of the enclosure should be planned to enable bears (which are predominantly solitary in the wild) to keep out of sight of one another. (J433.9.w1)
    • Providing trees, and good planting, breaks up lines of sight, reducing stress and aggression. (N26.2005.w1)
  • The general design of the enclosure, and/or furnishings, should provide the bears with "look out" points which enable the bears to have a wide view of their surroundings. (D265.6.w6)
  • Enclosure design and/or furnishings should provide visual barriers so that if there is more than one bear in an exhibit, they can get out of sight of one another, and out of sign of the public. (B33.7.w3)
  • If banks can be incorporated, bears can dig out their own resting places or even dens. Care must be taken to ensure that bank construction and placement of rocks or logs is such that the risk of the bear being injured by collapse of the dug bank is minimised.
  • Shelters should be provided which provide shade combined with good ventilation in hot, sunny weather. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • "Caves" or hollows should be provided in the enclosure for bears to hide away in. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Raised resting areas should be provided for the smaller, more arboreal species. (D265.6.w6)
  • Multiple pathways should be available between different parts of the enclosure, ensuring that bears can keep apart from one another if they choose to do so. (J433.9.w1)
  • See also: 
  • A pool should be provided, allowing bathing. Even a shallow pool is good enrichment. One with flowing water is excellent, if possible. The bottom of the pool should preferably have a natural substrate such as sand; large boulders may be placed in the pool and heavy PVC pipes may be fixed to the sides of pools, providing something for bears to put their paws into and to put objects into. (B33.7.w3, B434)
    • Availability of fresh cold water is very important in hot sunny weather. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • A large pool with gently sloping sides is suggested to make access to and from the pool easy and allow its use by more than one bear at a time. (B407.w7)
    • Waterfalls add interest for the bears. (N19.2.w1)
  • See also: Accommodation Design for Mammals - Pond / Lake / Watercourse Design, Structure and Maintenance
  • Natural substrates such as soil and sand allow bears to engage in natural digging behaviour. (B407.w4, B407.w6, B407.w7, B434)
    • This may be particularly appreciated by brown bears, which dig vigorously when given the opportunity to do so. (D265.6.w6)
    • Polar bears will use substrates such as sand and bark for digging, foraging, rolling and constructing day beds. (B407.w4)
  • See also: Accommodation Design for Mammals - Substrate
  • Natural vegetation provides some natural food for the bears to forage for - both in the form of the vegetation and in the form of invertebrates. (B407.w7, D265.6.w6)
  • See also: Accommodation Design for Mammals - Substrate; Furnishings / Plantings
Special requirements for Ursus maritimus - Polar bear:
  • Provide a large enclosure with varying topography. This counteracts stereotypic pacing behaviour and is particularly important in enclosures holding several bears. (B434)
  • Ensure that the bears have open views. (B407.w4, D315.1.w1)
  • Ensure that structural features such as resting platforms, nesting sites, elevated points (e.g. boulders) and multiple resting points providing long range visibility are present. (D315.1.w1)
    • Design elevated areas for ease of access by all ages of animals, to reduce the risk of injuries particularly to young bears. (D315.1.w1)
  • Provide areas with a thick layer of soil/gravel for digging and exploring; preferably provide pits of different substrates. (B434, D315.1.w1)
  • Plant the enclosure with vegetation - trees, bushes, grass, providing shade. (D315.1.w1)
  • Ensure there is a large, deep pool, with an uneven rather than flat bottom, to increase swimming activity and playing in the water. (B434, D315.1.w1)
    • Underwater boulders can be provided. (D315.1.w1)
    • Much play and manipulation of objects takes place in the water. (B407.w4)
  • Consider providing a waterfall or flowing water which may encourage play. (B434)
  • Ensure the enclosure is accessible by heavy machinery such as cranes and trucks so that changes can be made to large elements of the enclosure such as rocks, trees and substrates. (D315.1.w1)
  • At Central Park Zoo, environmental enrichment built into the enclosure includes "an Endless Pool unit, gravel beds, several large mister heads and ice machines that drop large piles of ice into the exhibit." (P82.7.w2)
Special requirements for bears during rehabilitation
  • Every effort should be made to avoid bears under rehabilitation care becoming accustomed to the presence of humans. Rehabilitation enclosures should be designed to minimize or eliminate physical, visual, auditory or olfactory contact between human caretakers and bears. (V.w93)
    • Note: Any degree of habituation, comfort or becoming accustomed to the presence of humans may increase the possibility of conflict or nuisance encounters upon release to the wild. (V.w93)
    • See also Accommodation Design for Mammals - Temporary / Hospital Accommodation - Bear Consideration: Rehabilitation Accommodation

Lagomorph Consideration

Rabbit run with shelter. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit hutch with attached run. Click here for full page view with caption Large rabbit shed and run. Click here for full page view with caption. Large rabbit shed and run. Click here for full page view with caption.

Domestic rabbit
  • Enclosures should be as large as possible. (B606.1.w1)
  • Rabbit enclosures should be large enough to allow proper exercise and tall enough to let the rabbit stand up on its hind legs at full stretch. (B606.6.w6)
  • Consider a raised or two-level hutch so that you do not loom over the rabbit when you approach. (B620)
  • Whether kept in a hutch or in the house, pet rabbits should be given several hours a day in an area large enough for adequate exercise. (B339.8.w8, D349, D350, J29.16.w8)
  • Cage or pen designs should preferably include a box or shelf which the rabbit can use as a retreat and as somewhere to sit or lie on top of. (D376, J83.27.w3, J288.68.w1)
    • Provided with a box or shelf, rabbit may choose to lie on rather than in/under the box/shelf.
    • In laboratory rabbits, a cage containing a box which the rabbit could go into or on top of, and additional height, was found to reduce abnormal behaviours, including restlessness. (J288.68.w1)
    • Availability of a potential bolt hole appears to be important for rabbits. (D376)
  • Enclosure design and/or furnishings should provide rabbits with the opportunity to avoid social contact if they wish to do so. (D376)
  • Enclosure flooring should allow the rabbit to engage in normal behaviours such as grooming, standing on its hind feet to "look out", hopping, running and jumping. (N34.Spring06.w1)
Wild lagomorphs
  • Wild lagomorphs should be kept in large enclosures in which they can get well away from people, with adequate cover for them to hide in when frightened by people or other animals. (B10.45.w47, B64.22.w8)
  • The enclosure should provide "the essential elements of a natural setting" for the species being kept. (J23.14.w6, P1.1972.w2) Consider the natural environment of the species and mimic this either directly or in functions it provides e.g. for
    • cover in which the animals can hide;
    • burrows or appropriate soil to dig burrows, for burrowing species;
    • rock piles for talus-dwelling pikas;
  • If on display to the public, only one side should be open to public viewing. (J23.26.w2)
  • Enclosures should be large enough to permit hopping exercise. (B169.24.w24)
  • Enclosures should be designed to minimise the risk of injury if lagomorphs panic and leap upwards or run fast. 
    • If too large an area is provided, species which normally escape predators by running fast may suffer serious or fatal injury hitting a boundary fence. (W585.Apr08.w1, W585.Apr08.w2)
    • The roof must be high enough that the lagomorph will not hit its head and injure itself on leaping, or alternatively, low enough to prevent leaping. (B525.11.w11, J46.126.w1)
  • If enclosures are not covered, the fences must be high enough to prevent the lagomorphs from leaping out, allowing for their use of furnishings to jump from. (J51.19.w1)
  • For territorial species, ensure adequate space and multiple, appropriately-separated essential resources (e.g. at least one rock pile per individual talus-dwelling pika).
  • When Ochotona princeps - American pika in large enclosures, one acre in size, with natural substrate, these pikas, which are generally considered talus-dwelling pikas, dug burrows near the buried dens and along the borders of the enclosures. Excavated areas, 8 - 13 cm deep, by the buried dens were used as additional hiding places and for storage of vegetation. Two individuals occupied burrows near dens for a period of two months, and other pikas lived in burrows near the fence; many of these burrows led to cavities where large clods of earth had been replaced after the fence was buried. It was noted that the pikas, while digging, would remove rocks (gravel) by carrying them in their teeth and placing them in piles either on top of the den or by the sides of the cages (and in once case in a feeder). (J332.53.w2)
Ferret Consideration Wild Mustela putorius - Polecats would spend about 6 - 8 hours per day exploring their environment, travelling several miles a day. Ferret enclosures should provide space for ferrets to exercise and explore. (P120.2007.w6) 
  • A large enclosure housing a group of ferrets may provide adequate exercise. (B631.17.w17)
  • One option used in some zoos is to have a home cage plus a series of attached small-diameter long wire tunnels, along which the ferrets can run. (B631.17.w17)
  • Since ferrets dig, enclosures need either solid floors or buried wire to prevent them from digging out. (B651.3.w3, B652.4.w4)
  • If the enclosure is relatively small, then the ferret needs to be given more time outside the enclosure to exercise e.g. by being taken for walks, or given time in the house or garden interacting with the owner, or with access to toys, tunnels etc. (B631.17.w17, P120.2007.w6)
  • Ferrets kept in a small area need at least two hours a day for exercise in a larger area; this should be split up (not a single two-hour session). (D402 - full text included)
Bonobo Consideration For primates in general, it has been shown that increasing the complexity of the environment (e.g. by providing outdoor and more naturalistic enclosures) results in the primates showing a more naturalistic behavioural profile and having better welfare. (J288.90.w1)
  • Bonobos show considerable arboreal as well as terrestrial locomotion; the enclosure should provide sufficient space to allow locomotion including running, climbing, leaping and jumping, and furnishings should encourage arboreal locomotion (climbing, leaping, jumping), and provide elevated resting places.
  • The enclosure design also should both allow the whole group to be together and allow individuals (particularly subordinate bonobos) to escape from other individuals and to remain apart from the group if they choose to do so.
  • Enough sleeping places (platforms, hammocks) should be provided that each adult can sleep apart from others, if they choose to do so.
  • When climate and weather allows, enclosures should be designed to allow bonobos free choice whether to be inside or outside. (B437.w24)
  • It is recommended that the outdoor enclosure provides at least two different substrates (sand and grass) and that substrates encourage foraging.
  • It is important that furnishings do not enable bonobos to escape from the enclosure.

(B437.w24, D386.5.1.w5a, D386.App1.w6, D427.5.2.w5b, J23.7.w2)

  • Providing increased space can reduce aggressive behaviours; at Wild Animal Park Plankendael, Belgium, there were significantly lower aggressive behaviours during periods when the bonobos had access to both their outside and their indoor enclosure, compared to when (during winter, due to cold weather) they had access to the indoor area only (only 2.5% of the area available compared with summer). (J54.23.w5)
  • A recent study strongly suggests that in PASA sanctuaries (including the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary for bonobos), the large complex enclosures (which enable a fission-fusion social system) and multi-male, multi-female groups provide an environment in which orphaned bonobos and chimpanzees are psychologically healthy, as indicated by cortisol levels no higher than in mother-reared infants, extremely low levels of aberrant behaviours [not tested for the bonobos] and similar scores for cognitive tasks (with the exception of tool use, at which mother-reared individuals appeared superior). (J473.6.w1)
  • It is likely that providing naturalistic environments or in other ways enabling the bonobos to have more control over their interactions with humans is likely to make such interactions less stressful for the bonobos. (J288.90.w1)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Enclosure Modification and Furnishings to meet Behavioural Requirements

Ideally, all enclosures would be designed to provide all the space and facilities required for the occupants to express their natural behaviours. However, for a variety of reasons, animals must be housed, at least temporarily, in enclosures which do not meet all their behavioural needs. 
  • In many modern zoos, as information about the needs of different species becomes clearer and more widely known, there is an ongoing programme of enclosure re-design and building of new enclosures better meeting the needs of the occupants. Such a programme takes time and financial resources, and not all enclosures can be redesigned or rebuilt at the same time.
  • In the developing world in particular, resources available to zoos may be very limited. 
  • Rescue centres all over the world may find that they are being asked to take in species or numbers of animals that they had not expected, and which their enclosures were not originally designed for.
    • This includes zoos, when they are asked to take in animals which have been illegally imported and confiscated, or have been discovered being kept illegally.

Where an existing enclosure is sub-optimal for the species, modifications may be made to it which increase the range of behaviours which the occupants can exhibit. Many modifications are simple and inexpensive. They may include (depending on the species):

  • Addition of substrates such as sand, bark or turf to areas of the enclosure, particularly if it is all or largely concrete;
  • Digging and filling a pond for bathing, or providing a raised pond with appropriate means of access;
  • Providing a mud wallow;
  • Providing a sand area;
  • Adding rocks or logs behind which animals can hide from cage mates;
  • Providing trees, branches or ropes for arboreal animals;
  • Adding a sleeping platform to the den/inside area;
  • Providing extra boxes or dens;
  • Provide trees, logs, telegraph poles and/or rocks for animals to rub on and/or scratch;
  • Providing bedding material;
  • Providing high up resting areas for semi-arboreal animals.
Animal health and safety considerations
  • Placement of furnishings should be checked to ensure that they do not allow the animals to escape.
  • Furnishings must be secured so they cannot fall onto an animal (consider the risk if animals dig under the furnishings).
  • Do not create places where subordinate animals may become trapped; there should always be at least two exit routes from an area, climbing platform etc.
  • Construction methods should aim to prevent the animals from dismantling any structure.
  • Structures for climbing should be over soft ground to minimise risks of injury if an animal falls off.
  • Structures for climbing or resting must be strong enough to take the weight of the animals.
  • Check that flight (escape) paths are not blocked.
  • Check that substrates provide good footing.
  • Substrates preferably should not cause intestinal impaction if eaten.
  • Straw, hay etc. may harbour Aspergillus fumigatus. Materials which are musty should not be used.
  • Wood shavings from conifers may contain natural volatile hydrocarbons.
  • Wood chips etc. must not have been chemically treated.
  • Minimise risks of animals drowning by ensuring that pools are shallow if provided for species which cannot swim, and that the sides are shallow or there are several easy routes for entry/exit.

(B214.2.3.w14, B439.16.w16, D265.6.w6, N19.6.w1, W643.June06.w3, W661.Jun07.w1)

Bear Consideration

Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption

"Concrete areas should be replaced with natural substrates that will encourage digging, nesting, burrowing, biding, swimming, scratching and foraging. Climbing bears should be provided with structures that lead to opportunities such as food or a view of the distance." (P36.1994.w4)
  • Bears should be provided with at least one climbing structure. (B447.w5, J328.93.w1)
    • Wooden poles and logs, trees, rocks and ropes all can be used. (J328.93.w1)
    • Providing a climbing structure for two Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bears encouraged activity and climbing not only on that structure but on other objects in their enclosure. (J419.73.w1)
  • A tree with sturdy limbs which the bears can climb, or boulders, can be provided. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Sturdy trees with many branches, providing a number of different potential routes for climbing up and down, give an area for climbing, particularly of young bears and semi-arboreal adult bears, and also a means for bears to escape one another. (B434)
    • Preferably, tree species native to the area the bears come from should be provided. (N19.13.w1)
  • Provide an elevated platform which the bears can climb up to to get a good view of the surrounding area. A raised platform can be made from strong logs, preferably with rough natural bark on. (P36.1994.w4, W627.Mar06.w1)
    • There must be an easy route for the bears to climb onto the platform. For old or weak bears, include a ramp of rough-textured logs or planks at a shallow angle for the bear to walk up. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Bears generally prefer a platform near natural cover of trees or bushes rather than out in the open. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • The platform can be screened with natural vegetation. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Logs can be tied together with rope to make an inexpensive platform. (N19.13.w1)
  • Provide straw for bears to make nests in (including polar bears). (P36.1994.w4)
  • Provide substrates such as soil, bark, fallen leaves, woodchips, sand, gravel and sawdust. (D247.2.w2, J328.93.w1, N19.6.w2, N19.13.w1, N19.14.w1, P36.1994.w4, P82.4.w2)
    • A mound of aromatic sawdust gives something for bears to climb, rub and roll in. If possible it should be raked into a pile daily, and fresh sawdust provided every few weeks. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Quantities of fresh pine needles can also be provided; they are also used by bears to make daybeds. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Simply adding soil and woodchips on top of concrete allows digging and nesting, and can encourage grooming behaviours. (N19.6.w2)
    • Woodchip areas can be used by bears for digging day beds and night beds, digging for food, sniffing, and rolling in. (P82.2.w1)
    • If several inches of soil can be added, even on top of concrete, it can be seeded and plants can grow in it. (N19.14.w1)
    • Provision of two or more substrates in different areas gives the bears a choice of bedding options for lying on. (N19.14.w1)
    • For Ursus maritimus - Polar bear, substrates such as rubber mats, palm fronds, straw and mulch are appreciated for the bears to dry themselves on after swimming. (P82.5.w2)
  • If available, bring in an uprooted tree, complete with roots. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Include tree posts with bark still on (preferable, particularly those with rough-textured bark) or if these are unavailable then untreated 4 x 4 inch (10 cm square) wooden posts, well secured into the ground for bears to scratch and rub on. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Ensure there are areas which provide shade and good ventilation in hot weather. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Fresh tree trunks give bears the opportunity to scratch off the bark. (D265.6.w6)
  • Furnishings such as logs, branches, large rocks etc. should be moved periodically (e.g. daily or weekly) to encourage habitat exploration and avoid pacing. (D315.1.w1)
  • An old-fashioned enclosure at San Diego zoo was modified by placing several low berms to change drainage, so that bed areas could still be hosed out, but soil could be provided over large parts of the (originally concrete) exhibit, and grass could be sown and other plants provided. An area of bark chippings gave an additional substrate for bedding and rolling in. It was noted that the bears appeared more interested in their exhibit and showed a reduction of pacing. (N19.14.w1)
  • A pile of boulders provides an area in which items of food can be hidden. (P82.2.w1)
  • A pool is important, particularly in summer. (J328.93.w1)
    • Rocks in a pool make a hunting area for searching for food and (if live fish are permitted as food) for fishing around. (P82.2.w1)
    • Sand in the bottom of a pool provides a more flexible bottom. (B33.7.w3)

Modifications which are particularly recommended in small old-fashioned enclosures include, for Ursus maritimus - Polar bear:

  • A sand pit. (B407.w4)
    • This is used for feeding, rolling and resting, and can increase the time spent foraging, digging and building day beds. (B407.w4)
  • A bark litter pit. (B407.w4)
    • This is used for feeding, rolling and resting, and can increase the time spent foraging, digging and building day beds. (B407.w4)
  • A large tree trunk. (B407.w4)
    • This may be climbed; it also provides a visual barrier allowing a pair of bears to get out of each other's sight. (B407.w4)
  • Areas with a thick layer of soil/gravel.
    • For digging and exploring. (B434, D315.1.w1)
  • In pools, add underwater boulders. (D315.1.w1)

Lagomorph Consideration

Rabbit pen with hite etc. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit pen with straw and litter tray. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit pen with straw and furnishings. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit hopping over furnishings. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbits in box on grass. Click here for full page view with caption. Romerolagus diazi - Volcano rabbit in pen. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbits in living room. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit in snow. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit on grass. Click here for full page view with caption. 

Domestic rabbit
  • If given the opportunity, rabbits will climb onto objects. Furnishings (e.g. a sturdy box, or a shelf/platform) should be provided which will give this opportunity. (B602.13.w13, J232.46.w1, J288.68.w1)
  • A heap of hay or soil should be provided in which rabbits can dig. Most rabbits will only want to dig a shallow hole to lie/sleep in. (B602.13.w13)
  • Does which are pregnant or pseudopregnant may dig deep burrows. (B602.13.w13)
  • Always provide a hiding place into which the rabbit can retreat if frightened. (B602.13.w13, D376, J288.68.w1)
  • For rabbits kept outside in particular, the hutch and/or enclosure can be modified with ramps, different levels, tunnels, branches etc. to provide a more interesting, three-dimensional environment, opportunities for exercise, and secluded areas for retreating. (B620)
  • Enclosure design and/or furnishings should provide rabbits with the opportunity to avoid social contact if they wish to do so. (D376)
  • A piece of large-diameter tubing/drainpipe will be used by rabbits. (J83.27.w3)
  • Rabbits will lie in a litter tray. (J83.27.w3)
  • Straw is a preferred bedding material. (N34.Spring06.w1)
  • Tunnels, raised areas etc. (B622.6.w6)
  • You can give rabbits a place to dig, such as a child's plastic sandpit, half-filled with sand and peat. (W720.Dec08.w1)
  • A digging box should be large enough to turn around in and tall enough for the rabbit to dig down her own height. (B624)
Rabbit safety in your house

See: Accommodation of House Rabbits

Rabbits can gain a lot of enrichment from being around the house. However, it is important to think of the possible hazards for house rabbits and to balance enrichment and safety.

  • Areas of the house which the rabbit has access to should be rabbit-proofed: electric cables protected from chewing, boxes of detergent and poisonous ornamental plants removed or placed out of reach (remembering that rabbits can hop up onto furniture). (B601.1.w1, B615.6.w6, B622.6.w6, J29.16.w8, J34.24.w3)
    • When unsupervised, the rabbit should be kept in a rabbit-proof area. (J29.16.w8)
  • Keep all electrical cables out of reach of rabbits, or protected inside plastic piping or conduits: rabbits will chew through uncovered cables, risking electrical burns (Burns and Smoke Inhalation) or Electrocution. (D349, B339.8.w8, B606.6.w6, J29.16.w8, N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • Check that flooring is not too slippery to allow comfortable locomotion. (N34.Spring06.w1)
  • Consider the risks associated with rabbits leaping or climbing onto high surfaces (particularly leaping onto slippery surfaces) and falling. Rabbits have a relatively fragile skeleton and are at risk of skeletal, including spinal, injury from falls. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
    • Avoid leaving tempting items, such as foods, where they may encourage rabbits to unsafe leaps or mountaineering.
    • Consider covering slippers surfaces with e.g. carpet samples.
    • Think about how arrangements of furniture such as chairs and tables, as well as boxes specifically provided as enrichment for your rabbit, may enable rabbits to reach excessive heights.


  • Consider restricting unsupervised access to stairs - rabbits running at high speed may tumble while dashing down stairs. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • Take care when moving around the house, opening and closing doors etc. - it's very easy to accidentally kick or tread on a rabbit, or shut one in a door. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • Take care with heavy objects around rabbits, as these can cause serious injury if they fall onto a rabbit. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
    • Do not leave heavy objects on the arms of chairs, for example.
    • Make sure the rabbit is restricted to another room before moving furniture or heavy boxes.
    • Take care about where the rabbit is when e.g. getting up from a dining chair.


  • Take care with hot drinks and foods around rabbits to avoid the risk of burns. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • If you have a fire (of any type) always use a fireguard and watch the rabbit to make sure it is behaving sensibly around the heat source. Note that many rabbits enjoy lying in front of a fire. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
  • Take care not to leave sharp objects where they may be reached by a rabbit or come within reach of a rabbit if they fall. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
    • Avoid carrying out DIY with a rabbit in the same room.
    • Avoid doing needlework around your rabbit.


  • Protect carpets in corners of the room, where they are most likely to be dug up, revealing sharp carpet grippers, by using strategically-placed furnishings. (N34.Summer2008.w1)
    • Or place a seagrass doormat in the corner - this is safe for chewing and digging. (D349)
  • Make sure the rabbit does not have access to poisonous plants. (B339.8.w8, D349)
  • Identify any potential sources of Lead and either remove it or prevent the rabbit gaining access to it. (B602.20.w20; B603.3.w3, J213.11.w1)
    • Note that household sheet vinyl can contain lead and be toxic if eaten. (N34.Spring06.w1)
Rabbit safety in your garden

Giving a rabbit free run of the garden can enable it to exercise and graze. However, there are several potential garden hazards to be considered.

  • If a rabbit is given free access to the garden, unsupervised, the garden needs rabbit-proof fencing, including provision to ensure it cannot dig out of the garden. See: Accommodation Design for Mammals - Perimeter Fences/Barriers
  • There is a risk of local predators - cats, dogs, foxes etc., and in some areas birds of prey if a rabbit is left unsupervised either in the whole garden or an open-topped run.
  • Ensure the rabbit always has access to shelter from wind and rain, particularly in the colder months..
  • Ensure the rabbit always has access to shade, particularly in the warmer months.
  • If the garden has a pond, this must be safely fenced off or covered over to avoid the risk of drowning (Drowning).
  • Care is needed when combining garden plants and rabbits to make sure the rabbit does not eat toxic plants (see: Plant Toxicities in Rabbits).
  • Special spring considerations:
    • Limit initial access to lush spring grass - sudden availability of plentiful green grass after a winter of hay and other drier food may upset the rabbit's gut.
    • Fence-off flower borders containing toxic flowers - e.g. euphorbia (the sap burns skin and rabbit mouths) and bulbs.
      • Note: bulbs may be underground, but can easily be dug up and eaten by a rabbit.
      • Rabbits may be able to dig under a fence - several feet of burrowing in a few hours - or jump over a fence (a determined rabbit can get over a fence one metre high).
      • OR limit the rabbit to another section of the garden, well away from poisonous plants.
    • (N34.Spring07.w2)
  • Special summer considerations:
    • Take care that annuals in rabbit reach are not poisonous - e.g. Lobelia, Love-in-a-mist, Antirrhinum, dahlias. 
    • Take care with wild flower seed mixes - some contain poisonous plants.


  • Special autumn considerations:
    • Pick up windfall apples pears etc., as they are high in sugar and more than small quantities of fruit can upset the gut leading to soft faeces and gassy guts. 
    • If storing grasses, and leaves and twigs from e.g. hazel, birch, and willow, make sure they are dry and not mouldy, and are stored in string or paper bags to remain dry.
    • Limit the amounts of even "safe" prunings given to rabbits, as too much of a new food can unbalance rabbit guts. 


  • Special winter considerations:
    • Provide access to a sufficient area for exercise daily - a run can be placed on a patio rather than the lawn, and supplied with a tray of hay for the rabbit to sit in. (N34.Winter07.w2)
    • There is a limited choice of non-toxic evergreen trees and shrubs for winter colour. Male holly (i.e. no berries) is safe, bay can be planted in large pots (although rabbits will eat the lower leaves if they are accessible), and box (e.g. Buxus semervirens) can be used - this may be toxic in large quantities but is usually avoided by rabbits. As an extra caution, box can be surrounded by wire (preferably square-holed weldmesh rather than chicken wire) and clipped back to this about twice a year.
    • Avoid rabbit access to hellebores, Daphne, Arum italicum, euphorbia, snowdrops and grape hyacinths.
    • Consider providing the rabbit-edible plants cow parsley (Anthriscus aylvestris) which can be growing as early as February, and comfrey (in moderation due to its high calcium content).
    • Cover bulbs (most bulbs are poisonous) with wire cages - upturned metal hanging baskets work for smaller bulbs - and monitor to make sure the plants have not grown out through the cages.
    • Particularly in smaller areas, grass growth is unlikely to keep up with rabbit grazing: for two rabbits, an area less than about 25 ft x 25 ft (7.6 x 7.6 metres) is unlikely to survive winter grazing.
    • Ensure the rabbit always has access to shelter from wind and rain.

    (N34.Autumn07.w2, N34.Winter06.w1)

Wild lagomorphs
  • At the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, Sharjah, where temperatures reach 50 °C, major requirements for Arabian hares (Lepus capensis - Cape hare) are adequate ventilation and shade, and sufficient shelter areas to avoid stress and fighting. Additionally, it is important to ensure they have dry areas during rain, and adequate drainage to take away rain water. (V.w132)
  • The enclosure should provide "the essential elements of a natural setting" for the species being kept. (J23.14.w6, P1.1972.w2) Consider the natural environment of the species and mimic this either directly or in functions it provides e.g. for
    • cover in which the animals can hide;
    • burrows or appropriate soil to dig burrows, for burrowing species;
    • rock piles for talus-dwelling pikas;
  • For territorial species, ensure multiple, appropriately-separated essential resources (e.g. at least one rock pile per individual talus-dwelling pika).
Ferret Consideration Ferrets are very curious and should be encouraged to spend time exploring their environment. Ferret enclosures should be made complex and provided with items of interest to ferrets such as:
  • Pipes of various diameters
  • A warren of interconnecting pipes, or trenches covered with boards.
  • A mound or tub full of earth for digging in .
  • A pile of logs for exploring.
  • A pile of rocks for exploring.
  • A pile of leaf litter.
  • Branches to climb.

(B651.3.w3, B652.4.w4, P120.2007.w6)

  • Indoors, PVC pipes, dryer vent tubing, large mailing tubes and similar long cylindrical objects are good for ferrets to run through. (B602.1.w1)
    • Make sure any pipe/tunnel is large enough to let the ferret pass freely. (D403 - full text included)
    • There should be small holes all along the tunnel for ventilation. (D403 - full text included)
  • An artificial "warren" or burrow containing all the aspects needed by ferrets (including sleeping, feeding and latrine areas) can be provided using a combination of cardboard boxes, plastic tubes, paper bags and small branches; a vertical latrine area should be included. (B232.3.w3)
    • Indoors, long tubes can be run behind furniture. (J513.6.w7)
    • Cloth tunnels as well as rigid tubes provide investigative and hiding opportunities. (D397 - full text included)
  • Nest boxes should always be provided. (B602.1.w1, J29.6.w3, P120.2007.w6, W264.Sept11.w2)
  • Boxes for hiding in, preferably multiple boxes with tubes leading in and out to create a maze. (D403 - full text included)
  • Running wheels can be provided to increase the opportunity for exercise. (P120.2007.w6)
  • To improve the opportunities for behavioural thermoregulation, cooling stones can be provided, and bedding which the ferret can use for increased warmth. (P120.2007.w6)
  • A pool or pan of water can be provided periodically for the ferret to swim in. (P120.2007.w7, W264.Sept11.w2)
    • Indoors, a bath can be filled with 2-3 inches of water and some floating toys; a wet towel draped over the edge lets the ferret(s) go in and out. (J513.6.w7)
    • Not all ferrets like water, but some will play in it, e.g. retrieving a pebble from a tray of water, or putting their head under water as it comes out of a watering can. (D403 - full text included)
    • Always make sure the ferret can escape from any container holding water. (D403 - full text included)
  • A maze can be provided. (P120.2007.w7, W264.Sept11.w2)
  • "Hide-and-seek" tubes. (W264.Sept11.w2)
  • A large plastic container of uncooked long rice in which to dig. (J513.6.w7)
  • A plastic plant pot with holes drilled in it; the ferret will explore, and food can be hidden under the pot. (J513.6.w7)
  • An old pair of trousers can be adapted as a ferret toy: Remove buttons and zips. Sew up or remove pockets (so the ferret cannot become trapped in them or store food etc.). Use thick wire in the bottom hem of each leg to form a rigid circle keeping the leg open (a piece of drainage pipe can be placed into each leg if wanted). (D403 - full text included)
  • Hammocks at various heights for resting alone or together. (D403 - full text included)
Ferret safety in your house
  • The natural way for ferrets to interact with their environment is by mouthing/biting/eating it. (B631.17.w17)
  • Ferrets may chew electrical cables; these must be kept inaccessible to ferrets. (B651.2.w2, B631.17.w17) See:
  • Ferrets are inquisitive and can squeeze through very small holes. It is important to check that every room the ferret will be accessing is "ferret-proofed", with any hole or opening of larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm) diameter sealed. (J29.8.w2)
    • Carefully check and seal around pipes associated with plumbing, heating etc. (J29.8.w2)
    • Special care should be taken to seal holes leading to places from which the ferret cannot be retrieved easily. (B602.1.w1)
  • All drawers, cupboards etc. must be kept closed. (B651.2.w2)
  • All windows and doors to the outside must be kept closed when the ferret is loose, to ensure the ferret stays in and potential predators stay out. (B651.2.w2)
    • Windows that are to be opened need to have secure wire screens. (J29.8.w2)
    • Note that ferret kits may be able to squeeze under doors. (J29.8.w2)
  • It is advisable to have a secure cage in which the ferret can be kept for safety, such as when hot weather means that doors and windows are open, or when guests are around who may not be familiar with ferrets. (B651.2.w2)
    • A hutch-type cage can be used, or a more upright wire cage of the type used for chinchillas. (B631.17.w17)
    • If space allows, a whole room can be ferret-proofed so that the ferrets can have full access to the room even when not supervised. This may then be furnished with tubes etc. (B631.17.w17)
  • A ferret may approach silently and not be noticed until you are stepping on it, or may be hidden under a rug and again only noticed when trodden on. (J29.8.w2)
  • Be aware that a ferret may enter a refrigerator unnoticed. (J29.8.w2)
  • Check where your ferret is before switching on the washing machine, in case the ferret was in the pile of laundry and is now inside the machine. (J29.8.w2)
  • Take extra care when changing the position of items of furniture such as sofa beds or reclining chairs. (J29.8.w2)
  • Ferrets tend to chew soft rubber, sponges etc, with a risk of resultant Gastro-intestinal Foreign Bodies. (B631.17.w17, J29.8.w2)
    • Do not give ferrets latex rubber toys. (J29.8.w2)
    • Cover the underside of couches, chairs and [if not on a solid divan base] mattresses with hardboard or hthin ply to prevent a ferret burrowing in and possibly eating the foam. (B602.1.w1)
    • Keep athletic shoes, rubber bands, rubber cat/dog toys, children's toys, stereo speakers, headphones, foam pipe insulation etc. away from ferrets. (B602.1.w1)
  • Note: A lightweight collar with a bell attached can be useful to give an indication of where the ferret is and reduce the risk of accidents. (J29.8.w2)
    • This should also have an identity tag on it. If the ferret escapes, the collar will indicate it is someone's pet and the tag will assist in ensuring it gets home safely. (J29.8.w2)
  • Note: ferrets may dig in plant pots, carpeting and overstuffed furnishings, if left unsupervised. (J213.4.w7)
Bonobo Consideration

Bonobo wading chest-deep. Click here for full page view with caption

  • Furnishings and substrates should provide environmental complexity. (J288.90.w1)
  • Where bonobos need to be kept in smaller cages/enclosures than the suggested minimum, as much as possible, interconnections between cages/enclosures should be used to provide more space.
  • Furnishings should enable and encourage arboreal travel.
  • Elevated resting platforms should always be available.
  • The design should ensure there is always more than one route from any location, preventing an individual becoming trapped by any other more dominant bonobos.
  • The design should allow any individual to separate from the group if it chooses to do so, as well as enabling the whole group to be together.
  • Tyres, if provided, should be hung using chain, not rope, to avoid the risk of accidental hanging in frayed rope. (D427.5.2.w5b)

(B437.w24, D386.5.1.w5a, D386.App1.w6, D427.5.2.w5b, J288.90.w1)

  • Provision of water should allow for uses other than drinking. Bonobos will play in water; this has been observed at several zoos and includes filling and carrying containers, dipping water or cardboard into the water, running through a pool, clapping hands and feet in the water, tossing water at keepers, splashing, wading, floating food items and toys on the water, and dunking their heads in the water. (D386.3.3.w3c)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Mixed Species Exhibits

Mixed species exhibits are useful to educate zoo visitors on the complexities of the interactions between species of animals and plants within ecosystems. (B23.6.w14, B429.20.w20)
  • Mixed species exhibits can be enriching for the animals, providing added mental stimulation and introducing the possibility of intraspecific interaction; the level of activity of the animals may increase. (B429.20.w20, B439.16.w16)
    • This may have a positive impact on the physical and mental health of the animals, so long as interactions and activity are not antagonistic. (B429.20.w20)
  • Mixed species exhibits require careful design to contain both the largest, strongest species and the smallest species to be housed; these requirements are likely to increase construction costs. (B105.20.w5; J4.223.w3)
  • Species-specific holding (indoor) areas should be provided for each species, together with some way of sorting species into their appropriate holding areas. (B105.20.w5)
Potential hybridisation
  • Hybridisation is a possible consequence if closely related species are maintained in the same exhibit. (B105.20.w5, B429.20.w20)
Potential interspecific aggression problems of mixed species exhibits

Mixing species must be carried out carefully, with consideration of the behaviour and habits of the species, the age and sex of the animals, and the individual animals involved.

  • Care must be taken to ensure that the species are compatible. 
  • There are obvious potential problems in mixing carnivores with prey species, or highly territorial animals with other species which they may see as competitors.
  • A particularly aggressive individual or a very nervous individual may not be appropriate for a mixed exhibit.
  • Mixed exhibits which work when containing non-breeding adults, may develop problems when one or the other species is mating or tending young.
  • Special design or modifications of enclosures may be needed, for example providing an area of the enclosure to which only the smaller species can get access.

Problems can be anticipated and their risks minimised by:

  • Particular care during the introductory phase. (B429.20.w20)
  • Providing hiding areas. (B23.6.w14)
  • Providing plenty of visual barriers so animals can get out of sight of one another. (B429.20.w20)
  • Use of barriers which allow certain animals into some sections of the enclosure while keeping others out. (B23.6.w14)
  • Particular care to minimise obstacles which could cause trauma to fleeing animals. (B23.6.w14)
  • Multiple feeding stations. (B23.6.w14)
  • Separate indoor housing areas for each species, and multiple shelters.
  • Temporary separation during particular times in the reproductive cycle, e.g. during the mating season, or when females are tending young. (B429.20.w20)

(B23.6.w14, B105.19.w6, B429.20.w20)

Nutritional and disease considerations

Consideration must be given to different feeding requirements and to ensure that if different foods are needed no species has access to foods of another species which may be deleterious to their health. 

  • Particular care must be taken at feeding times; 
    • Consider the quantities of food provided and ensure that food is distributed appropriately, with all individuals getting an adequate amount and none feeding excessively and becoming obese. (B23.6.w14)
    • Species may have different requirements for vitamins, trace minerals etc. (B23.6.w14)
    • Species should be separated for feeding if possible. (B429.20.w20)
  • In addition to nutritional disease concerns, mixed species exhibits may allow infectious and parasitic diseases to be transmitted between species; (B23.6.w14, B439.16.w16)
    • Infectious diseases may be mild or inapparent in some species but severe or fatal in others. (B23.6.w14)
  • Parasitic diseases with a direct life cycle and a broad host range are most likely to be transmitted between species. (B23.6.w14)
    • Some species may carry certain parasites with no or few ill effects, while they cause severe problems in other species; (B23.6.w14)
    • Effective treatment of all individuals, for example with anthelmintics (de-wormers), may be more problematic in mixed species exhibits where some species may monopolise medicated food resources. (B23.6.w14)
Exhibit rotation
  • Rotating individuals or groups of animals through multiple enclosures, in a controlled, regular manner, results in scent marks, visual marks etc. left by each group of animals which can act as enrichment to other species when they are are moved into the enclosure.
  • Animal rotation also provides periodic novel environments for the animals to explore.
  • Care must be taken to ensure that the rotation is not stressful for the animals.
  • Note: Specially designed enclosure are needed for use of this form of enrichment.

(N19.11.w2, P82.5.w4, V.w5

Bear Consideration

Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption

A mixed species exhibit with a suitable species provides more stimuli in the environment and provides the possibility of interspecific interaction. (B33.7.w3, B434, D265.6.w6)
Potential for hybridisation

Lagomorph Consideration JSPCA001_Rabbit_Gpig.jpg (54749 bytes) Feeding box for hares, mixed species exhibit.  Click here for full page view with caption

Domestic rabbit
Domestic rabbits can be kept with other species, but it is important to consider this carefully.

Rabbits and guinea pigs

  • Rabbits and guinea pigs can be kept together, but it is important to remember that:
    • Bullying can occur both from the rabbit to the guinea pig and (less commonly) from guinea pig to rabbit. (B339.8.w8)
      • A kick from a rabbit may seriously injure the guinea pig; (B606.1.w1)
      • If a rabbit and guineapig are kept together, provide a den with a small entrance, which the guinea pig can get into and the rabbit cannot, where the guinea pig can retreat from the rabbit. (B606.1.w1, D351)
    • Bordatella bronchiseptica, carried by rabbits without ill effects, can cause serious disease in guinea pigs. (B339.8.w8, B602.13.w13, B606.1.w1, B622.2.w2)
    • Guinea pigs can be asymptomatic carriers of Pasteurella multocida (see Pasteurellosis in Lagomorphs) (J213.2.w2)
    • Guinea pigs need a lot of vitamin C, usually in green food; this may be more green food than usual for the rabbit. (B606.1.w1)
    • If the rabbit is not neutered, it may sexually harass the guinea pig (try to mount it). (B606.1.w1, D351)

House rabbits and other pets:

  • Rabbits can usually be kept with pet birds such as parakeets, and with dogs. Cats can be unpredictable and in general should not be left alone with a rabbit. (B602.13.w13)
    • If your cat hunts wild rabbits and you want it to cohabit with a pet rabbit, get a large breed rabbit. (D349)
      • Introduce the cat and rabbit gradually, initially with the rabbit in a secure cage or run and the cat outside this. (B622.2.w2)
      • A rabbit is more likely to accept a cat if it is introduced to cats at an early age. (B622.6.w6)
    • Cohabitation of a rabbit and a dog depends on the dog adapting to the presence of the rabbit. (B618.8.w8)
    • Whether a dog and a rabbit can cohabit will depend on: (N34.Spring07.w1)
      • Socialisation of the dog to other species - rabbits, cats - during the critical three to twelve weeks old socialisation period.
      • Breed - some breeds, such as terriers and greyhounds may find it more difficult not to lunge for a rabbit if it makes a sudden move (breed is less important than socialisation).
      • General training of the dog, including training "leave", "gentle" etc., rewarding the dog for remaining calm when passing cats on a walk, and not encouraging the dog to chase wild rabbits. 
      • Training the dog to accept a muzzle as a normal part of life, to be worn at all sorts of times, such as when sitting watching television. This should be trained before introduction to the rabbit, so the dog does not associate wearing a muzzle with the presence of small furry exciting creatures.
    • Initial introductions between the dog and the rabbit should take place with the rabbit safely inside a cage and the dog on a lead - this gives you control over the situation. (B622, N34.Spring07.w1)
      • Reward the dog for calm behaviour and be ready to use commands such as "Leave" or "Off" if necessary.
        • It is important to have the dog trained to "Leave" before trying to introduce the dog and the rabbit. (B622.2.w2)
      • Ideally, the dog should become settled and calm outside the cage, with a chew, while the rabbit is settled inside the cage eating hay or green foods. (B622.2.w2)
      • If the dog gets too excited, stop the introduction and give the dog time to calm down.
      • Do not punish the dog for being interested in the rabbit (this may lead the dog to resent the rabbit), but reward good behaviour.
      • Once the dog has lost interest in the caged rabbit, repeat the socialisation with the rabbit allowed to come out of the cage - but the dog on a loose lead and preferably wearing a muzzle.
        • If the dog gets too excited, it needs to be commanded to "Leave".
      • Over time, allow the dog off the lead with the rabbit in the room.

      (B622.2.w2 ,N34.Spring07.w1)

    • If the dog continues to launch itself at the caged rabbit and does not calm down, it may be necessary to consult a qualified pet behaviour consultant, or to accept that the two animals are incompatible and one or other may need a new home. (N34.Spring07.w1)
    • Even if the dog and the rabbit appear to get along very well, it is safest not to leave them together without supervision. (N34.Spring07.w1)
      • Do not leave a dog and rabbit together unattended unless you are certain they are safe together. (D349)
Wild lagomorphs
Ferret Consideration
  • With supervision, ferrets can be housed with cats and dogs. (B339.9.w9, J29.8.w2)
  • Ferrets should not be mixed with rabbits or rodents [their natural prey] even under supervision. (B339.9.w9)
  • Ferrets should be kept separate from pet birds, as they may attack these. (J29.8.w2)
  • Ferrets may fail to socialise with pet birds, rodents and reptiles. (J213.4.w7)
Bonobo Consideration Grooming and other affiliative behaviours have been observed between Procolobus badius - Red colobus and young bonobos at Wamba, Democratic Republic of Congo, (B580.5.w5; J576.31.w1) and nonantagonistic interactions have been observed between bonobos and guenons - Cercopithecus wolfi and Cercopithecus ascianus at Wamba. (J576.38.w1) However, while primarily vegetarian, bonobos have been observed hunting and eating squirrels, duikers and bats, and in one location (Lui Kotale), other primates. In several other locations, bonobos have been observed capturing young primates and treating them as infant bonobos or "dolls"; the other primates have not always survived this behaviour. (J552.14.w1) Bonobos in captivity, particularly adolescents, have also been observed killing (and occasionally eating) individuals of free-living species which entered their enclosure. (J564.71.w2) These behaviours should be taken into consideration in decisions regarding potential mixed species exhibits involving bonobos. For further details on interactions with other species see:
  • There is little information on bonobos in mixed-species exhibits. (D386.5.1.w5a)
  • Bonobos have been maintained sharing an enclosure with Cercopithecus pata - Patas monkeys at Cincinnati Zoo. (D386.5.1.w5a, D394)
    • For introduction, the patas were allowed into the outside enclosure first, then the bonobos. For the first five days the patas monkeys remained in an area which the bonobos could not access; they continued using this area after this time, sometimes. (D394)
    • The two species are separated at night for feeding of different diets. (D394)
    • The two species do not appear to take much notice of each other, but they do watch each other. (D394)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Provision of Manipulable Objects/Toys

Many species benefit from having objects which they can manipulate and play with. These should be of an appropriate size and weight for the species, and, unless designed to be torn apart (e.g. paper bags), should be sufficiently robust to cope with the attentions of the animal and its claws and teeth. Items such as Boomer Balls®, plastic barrels, tyres, logs, hollow tubes (bamboo, wood, PVC pipe) etc. can be used for a wide variety of different species. The natural history of the species should be considered also, for example in providing ropes, swings and other objects hung up for arboreal and semi-arboreal species.

Descriptions of several toys which may be provided, including the species they may be used for and further comments, are provided in: The Environmental Husbandry Manual - full text included.

Safety considerations

Objects should be evaluated for safety before being provided to animals, checked frequently for signs of wear which may lead to their becoming hazardous, and sanitised before reuse. (B439.16.w16)

Ideally, manipulable objects should pass the same safety standards as those for toys for small children: they should be durable, without sharp edges or areas in which a digit or other body part could become trapped, should not include pieces which may be detached and swallowed, should be non-toxic, not liable to cause harm if the object is swallowed, and should be sanitisable. (B439.16.w16)

  • If objects include suspended chains, ropes or nets, there should be an evaluation of the potential risk of injury or strangulation from limbs or neck becoming trapped, and of ingestion if ropes fray.
    • Ropes and chains of large diameter are less likely to form loops in which a body part may become trapped than are those of small diameter. (B439.16.w16)
    • Small diameter ropes or chains can be cased in lengths of water hose or similar tubing to prevent them from looping or kinking. (B439.16.w16)
    • Ropes with the potential to fray should be avoided; ingested lengths may cause gastrointestinal blockage, and smaller lengths can cause serious injury and even amputation if they become tangled around the tongue or a digit. (B439.16.w16)
    • Chains can be connected to a suspended item using a swivel to reduce the risk of the chain kinking. (W643.June06.w3)
    • Burlap bags should be replaced before they fray. 
  • If any items are painted, the paint must be non-toxic.
  • Objects should not be able to cut or otherwise injure the animals.
  • If items are built of wood, consider rounding corners and sanding edges to reduce the risk of splinters, and attaching pieces of wood to one another with dovetail cuts and glue rather than using nails or screws. (W643.June06.w3)
  • If items such as Christmas trees are donated by the public, check that they have not been treated with chemicals such as fire retardants, and that they do not have tinsel, ornaments etc. still attached. (N19.2.w2)
  • Items such as paper bags and cardboard boxes should be checked and any staples, string, plastic liner etc. should be removed.
  • Consider whether any of the animals can use the object as a weapon against other individuals.
  • Consider whether the object could fall onto an animal and injure it.
  • Consider whether the items could be taken into the mouth and get lodged, or whether an object or part of the object could be swallowed and cause asphyxiation, choking or lower gastrointestinal obstruction. 
  • Consider whether the object could damage the exhibit.

(B439.16.w16,J328.93.w1, P20.1998.w9, N19.2.w2, N19.10.w1, P108.12.w1 W643.June06.w3, W661.Jun07.w1)

Bear Consideration

Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption

Descriptions of several toys which may be provided, including the species they may be used for and further comments, are provided in: The Environmental Husbandry Manual - full text included. See: Floating Toys, Boomer Ball, Ice Blocks, Claw scratching posts

Bears should be provided with a variety of moveable objects which they can manipulate and play with. The objects should be changed regularly to provide novelty, stimulating exploratory and play behaviours. (B33.7.w3, B447.w5, D315.1.w1, N19.7.w2)

  • Bear species may vary in their responsiveness to play objects, and young bears are more likely to play with objects than are older bears, but objects should be available whatever the bear's species and age. (B447.w5)
  • Bears particularly like objects which they can put their head or paws into, and objects which give when bounced on. (B33.7.w3)

Suggested objects include:

  • Dry rotten wood, such as large branches or logs, which stimulate natural exploratory and foraging behaviour. (B434, W661.Jun07.w8)
    • These may naturally contain insects and insect larvae for the bears to eat.
    • Mealworms or other insect larvae could be placed in the rotten wood for the bears to find. (B434)
    • They can be rolled around, ripped up, chewed etc. (W661.Jun07.w8)
  • Whole large tree roots: these encourage exploratory behaviour, particularly of young bears, and may contain insects. (B434)
  • Branches, which the bears (particularly Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bear) can manipulate to form nests. (N4.21.w3)
  • Hanging objects such as tyres or fenders; these may be played with and may encourage the practice of hunting techniques. (B434)
  • Boomer Balls® - these can be made more interesting by being scented with a carcass or a spray-on scent, or filled with warm water, water mixed with blood for scent, or small pieces of food (the food pieces can fall out of small holes as the ball is moved). (B407.w6, P36.1994.w4, N19.2.w1, N19.3.w1)
  • Branches for bears to browse on and chew. (D266.w1, N19.2.w1, P36.1994.w4, W661.Jun07.w3)
    • Suitable browse species may include e.g. Willow (Salix spp.), pear (Pyrus communis) and mulberry (Morus rubra). (W661.Jun07.w3)
    • Check that no insecticides or fungicides have been sprayed on the browse, and that they do not have any toxic browse species attached or mixed in.
  • Empty beer kegs. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Traffic cones. (N19.7.w2, P36.1994.w4)
  • Boat bumpers, buoys. (N19.7.w2)
  • Tyres or large balls, loose or hung from trees. (N19.2.w1, P36.1994.w4, W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Boughs or vines hung over the pool for the bears to reach up for while bathing. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Floating toys such as dried gourds can be provided in the pool. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Christmas trees - bears may use these in various ways. They may be stripped, lain on, the needles used to line a nest, or the tree used to block wind coming into a den. (N19.3.w1)
    • It is important to make sure that trees donated by the public have not been sprayed with chemicals such as fire retardants. (N19.2.w2)
  • 20-litre plastic containers. (B407.w6)
    • For bear cubs, smaller plastic jugs may be suitable. (W661.Jun07.w10)
  • Old telephone books. Note: these can produce a lot of paper mess when they are torn up. (W661.Jun07.w8)
  • Hides, either fresh or frozen, e.g. from road-killed deer or domestic cattle, for the bears to tear up. (N19.2.w1)
  • Plastic barrels. (N19.7.w2, N19.15.w1)

(B407.w6, B434, N4.21.w3, N19.2.w1, N19.3.w1, P36.1994.w4, D266.w1, W627.Mar06.w1, W661.Jun07.w3, W661.Jun07.w8)

Extra notes for Ursus maritimus - Polar bear
  • Polar bears of all ages will play. (B33.7.w3)
  • Polar bears enjoy floating objects such as an aluminium keg or a plastic barrel to play with. (B288.w11, N4.23.w1)
  • Polar bears appreciate large, hollow objects to play with. (B446.w6)
  • When objects are provided for polar bears to play with, there should be at least one object per bear: if only one object is given, it will be monopolised by the dominant bear. (B407.w4)
  • It has been suggested that at least 10 different moveable objects should be provided for polar bears. (B407.w4)
  • A study found that manipulation of objects, and play, occurred most often in the water; it was further noted that in the concrete-substrate pens, the water was the only area where the bears could leap and pounce on objects without landing on hard concrete. (B407.w4)
  • Polar bears will sometimes engage in social play using toys, for example tug-of-war. (B407.w4)
  • While toys are likely to get damaged, objects are not simply destroyed. Initial biting and chewing may occur, particularly with objects which are food-associated, but paws are used more than teeth for manipulating objects and even when objects are torn apart the pieces are still used as new toys. (B407.w4)
  • Polar bears often bounce on objects; this may reflect the natural behaviour of breaking through ice to reach seals. (B407.w4)
  • Polar bears may stack objects on one another, or place one object inside another object. (B407.w4)
  • Objects are examined visually, orally and manually, then with hollow objects the bear generally investigates the interior, using paws or head inside the object. (B407.w4)
  • Relatively complex play may be carried out, such as setting an object in a chosen place then backing off to run at it and pounce on it. (B407.w4)
  • Objects should be changed periodically to help maintain interest. (B407.w5)
  • Artificial snow spread in the enclosure - this increases activity and, particularly for young bears, encourages play. Additionally, it may be useful for temperature regulation in hot weather. (B434)
  • Artificial ice floes can be provided in the pool - these act as toys and encourage natural activity (good physical training). (B434, D315.1.w1)
    • It is important to check that these will not damage the pool structure. (D315.1.w1)
  • Floating toys such as wooden blocks or planks allow play. In pools with steep sides, bears may be occupied for long periods trying to land the objects. (B434, N4.23.w1)
  • At Edinburgh Zoo, enrichment objects included beer barrels, fishing floats, boomer balls, food boxes, fish boxes, traffic cones, ice blocks, branches and log cuttings. (B407.w5)
  • At San Diego Zoo, non-food enrichment objects have been a major part of environmental enrichment for polar bears. 
    • Palm fronds, burlap bags, cardboard boxes, five-gallon water bottles as well as various sizes and colours of boomer balls. (P82.7.w1)
    • Burlap bags have been used in many ways: bears take them into the pool and swim with them, play tug-of-war (bears are in sibling pairs), place them on their heads, shake them and curl up using a bag as a pillow. They can also be filled with floating balls or with hay. Note: for safety reasons (to prevent ingestion) no food items are ever placed in the bags, and they are removed and replaced with new bags before they wear enough to get "stringy". (P82.7.w1)
    • Often, several items are provided at the same time, so that the bears can choose which item they wish to play with. One bear shows clear preferences between balls of different colours. The bears commonly stash preferred toys in a 12" (30 cm) diameter pipe underwater (used to deliver fish into the pool) where they are not accessible to the keepers. When a toy becomes less "valued" by the bear, it is left where the keepers can pick it up. (P82.7.w1)
  • At Kolmarden Djurpark, Sweden, polyethylene puzzle feeders were found to be stronger than PVC, while still floating. The feeders are hollow, cylindrical and rectangular, with lids which are securely fasted (multiple screws), and small holes in the sides through which food such as meat pieces can be pulled out by the bears using their claws. The bears also play with the empty containers. (N19.9.w1)
  • When destructible items are provided, close observation should be carried out initially to see how the item is treated. Guidelines may allow the item to be torn up, but not ingested. (P82.7.w1)
    • Training bears with a "leave-it" command, using positive reinforcement, enhances safety and allows a wider variety of items to be offered. (P82.7.w1)
  • Giant kelp seaweed can be provided if the collection is near the sea. (N4.21.w3)

Descriptions of several toys which may be provided, including the species they may be used for and further comments, are provided in: The Environmental Husbandry Manual - full text included

See: Floating Toys, Boomer Ball, Ice Blocks, Claw scratching posts

Lagomorph Consideration

Rabbit pen with hite etc. Click here for full page view with caption

Domestic rabbit
Domestic rabbits, whether house or hutch rabbits, will benefit greatly from having access to toys. Toys which they can play with and chew will also reduce the chance of the rabbit choosing its own "toys" and chewing places - which may be destructive to furnishings and may be dangerous for the rabbit (e.g. if it chews through electric cables). (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, D349, J29.16.w8, J213.7.w3)

Rabbits may chew, nudge, pick up and toss or drop toys. (J495.41.w7)

A variety of toys designed specifically for rabbits are now available. Additionally, the following may be used:

  • Untreated cardboard boxes for chewing; (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, D349, J83.27.w1, J213.7.w3)
  • Large paper bags or sacks. (B624, J83.27.w1)
  • Cardboard rolls from toilet paper and paper towels for chewing; (B620, B624, J213.7.w3, N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • The cardboard roll from used sticky-tape will be tossed around. (B624)
  • Old telephone books or newspaper, wedged under a solid object (e.g. a chair or table leg) to pull on or chew; (B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1, J213.7.w3)
  • Untreated cardboard or wooden boxes loosely filled with straw; (J213.7.w3)
  • Boxes to hide in; (B624, J213.7.w3)
    • Playhouses of non-toxic cardboard are available; these provide chewing opportunities and a warren-like retreat. (J29.16.w8)
    • Prove a box with a hole for the rabbit to go in and our of. (N34.Autumn07.w2)
    • There should be at least one cardboard box per rabbit, so they can choose to go into separate boxes. (J83.27.w1)
  • Tunnels and plastic drainpipes. (B620J83.27.w1, J213.7.w3)
  • Hard plastic pet toys made for dogs, (J213.7.w3), cats (B601.1.w1) or birds.(B339.8.w8, B601.1.w1)
    • For example, balls designed for cats, small twisted rope toys designed for dogs. (B620)
    • Lightweight cat toys for tossing about. (B624)
    • Food-releasing puzzle toys designed for dogs. (B622.6.w6)
  • Straw-filled or hay-filled wicker/willow basket. (D349, J29.16.w8)
    • If the basket is large enough, the rabbit can climb in, make a nest, dig through the hay/straw and chew it. (J29.16.w8)
  • Pieces of wood/sticks or branches for gnawing. (J83.27.w1, J495.41.w7)
    • Branches are used for climbing on and chin-marking as well as gnawing. (J83.27.w1)
  • Human toddler teething rings. (B620, B622.6.w6)
  • A gnawing block and/or e.g. apple tree trimmings . (N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • A planter full of soil in which the rabbit can dig. (N34.Autumn07.w2)


  • Toys should be rotated, as rabbits may become bored if the same objects are provided all the time, and reduce interactions with them. (J501.40.w4, J501.42.w1, N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Provide both toys that are free to move and toys hanging e.g. from the hutch roof. (N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Spend time playing with the rabbit; encourage playing. (N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • As with all species, toys should be evaluated for safety. Potential toys should be divided into three groups on the basis of this assessment: unsafe (do not give the rabbit access to this object); safe under supervision, and safe without supervision. Before a toy is given to a rabbit, particularly for unsupervised use, it is important to consider the ways in which the rabbit may interact with the enrichment object, and the potential risks if the toy is misused or is damaged. (J501.40.w3, V.w5)
    • An apparently safe toy, a commercially available "whiffle ball", became lodged on the upper and lower incisor teeth of a New Zealand white rabbit and caused local damage to the gums, as well as inability to eat and drink. The ball had to be removed by careful cutting away of pieces of the ball using bone cutters, with the rabbit anasethetised. (J501.40.w3)
Wild lagomorphs
  • Provide logs for gnawing on and jumping on.
  • Pikas should be provided with appropriate vegetable matter which they can store for the winter. 
    • At Denver Zoological Gardens, a male pika (Ochotona princeps - American pika) harvested plant material starting in early July, storing it in the gaps in a talus mound. (J23.15.w6)
Ferret Consideration Ferrets should be provided with toys. (W264.Sept11.w1)

Suitable toys for ferrets include:

  • Paper bags; (B602.1.w1)
  • Hard plastic or metal toys; (B602.1.w1)
  • Heavy-duty cloth toys. (J213.4.w7)
    • Cloth toys designed for cats or for human babies. (B602.1.w1)
  • Artificial fur or sheepskin toys. (J213.4.w7)
  • Balls. (W264.Sept11.w1)
    • These should be made of hard plastic. (J213.4.w7)
    • Pin-pong (table tennis) balls. (J513.6.w7)
  • Bite cups should be provided. (W264.Sept11.w1)
  • Moving "prey" toys. (W264.Sept11.w2)
    • Some ferrets will chase remote-controlled toy cars. (J513.6.w7)
  • Rotate the toys available, ensuring novelty. (J513.6.w7, P120.2007.w7, W264.Sept11.w1)
  • NOTE: Rubber or foam toys are not suitable as they may be ingested. (B602.1.w1) See: Gastro-intestinal Foreign Bodies in Rabbits and Ferrets
  • Take care that any toy provided for a ferret is not stuffed with material which the ferret can eat and does not break down into pieces which the ferret can ingest. (D403 - full text included)
Bonobo Consideration

Bonobo with hessian sack

Bonobos readily make use of a wide variety of objects including boxes, blankets, clothing, plastic bottles etc. and should be provided with a range of items. (J334.80.w1, V.w5)
  • Work with chimpanzees has shown that use of manipulable objects increases when novel objects are provided, when a greater number of objects are provided, and when destructible objects (e.g. paper which can be torn, rather than hard toys) are provided. (J232.46.w2)
  • Chimpanzees and bonobos appreciate clothes. (D20)
  • Items should be checked for elements which could cause injury, e.g. staples, glue etc. in boxes, and any potentially harmful substances removed before the items are given to the bonobos. (D20)
  • No items given should be able to harm other individuals (conspecifics or personnel) or to damage the enclosure. (D427.5.2.w5b)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro


Return to top of  page

Scent Enrichment

Many species have a very good sense of smell and inhabit a rich scent world. Because humans have a relatively poor sense of smell it is easy for this aspect of the mammal's environment and life experience to be ignored.
  • Enriching the environment through providing scents may be a part of food provision, for example laying a scent trail leading to a piece of food, or hiding smelly (to the animal) food items for the animal to find.
  • Scent enrichment may also involve proving non-food scents, including odours of other animals (e.g. faeces of herbivores for carnivores to respond to, and vice versa), and various herb and other plant scents.
  • Woodchips can be stored with a little water in empty containers which have held seasonings, to absorb the scent, then can be placed in the enclosure.
  • Aromatic browse can provide scent enrichment.
  • Note:
    • Care must be taken if introducing predator scents to prey species that the prey animals are not panicked or unduly stressed by the scent.
    • Faeces and other animal by-products (e.g. feathers) provided as scent enrichment should come from animals which are healthy and have been checked for parasites (and confirmed free of such parasites).
    • Consider the risks of cross-contamination between enclosures. 
    • Care must be taken not to use too strong a perfume or spice; perfumes may be best used in outside/open areas where there is good ventilation.
    • Scent enrichment may be most effective if used infrequently rather than every day. (W661.Jun07.w13)

(N4.16.w3, W643.June06.w3, W661.Jun07.w3, W661.Jun07.w13)

Bear Consideration

Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption

Bears have an excellent sense of smell, which is used for finding food as well as for detecting danger. Scent-based enrichment is an important part of enrichment provision for bears.
  • Natural substrates provide more olfactory stimulation than do concrete enclosures. (B33.7.w3)
  • Place smells such as sardines, hunting lures, material from other animals, around the enclosure. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Place scents on trees or scratching posts. Suggested scents include animal odours and herbal fragrances or flavourings such as anise, peppermint, ginger, cinnamon, butterscotch, fennel, cloves, maple, pecan, almond, vanilla, apple, pine, or nutmeg; perfume can also be used. (J328.93.w1, N4.23.w1, W627.Mar06.w1, W661.Jun07.w13)
    • Scents can also be placed on a Boomer Ball® or other toy, to increase interest. (N19.2.w1, N19.3.w1)
    • A cardboard box can be sprayed with a scent such Christmas pine tree scent and small amounts of food such as raisins or cereals placed in the box. (N19.3.w1)
    • Liquid flavourings such as vanilla, aniseed, pineapple, strawberry, maple etc. can be diluted with water, placed in small plastic spray bottles and sprayed onto enclosure furnishings. (W661.Jun07.w5)
    • Herbs which could be used (fresh or dried) include dill (Anethum graveolens), chives (Allium spp.), tarragon (Artemisa dracunculus), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), peppermint (Menta spp.), basil (Ocimum basilicum), oregano (Origanum spp.), sage (Salvia officinalis) and thyme (Thymus spp.). (W661.Jun07.w7)
  • Drag meat or smelly fish such as herring around the enclosure to provide a scent trail for the bears to follow. Sometimes (but not always) leave food at the end of it. (B407.w7, J23.29.w2, P36.1994.w4)
  • Trails can be created using highly scented substances such as Marmite, Bovril or tomato ketchup; bears will rub their faces and shoulders along such smears. (N4.23.w2)
  • Hiding foods (see below: Feeding Methods) encourages the bears to forage and find the foods by scent. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Sawdust from an aromatic wood, or provision of loads of fresh pine needles, provides a scent experience for the bears as well as a tactile experience and a place to dig or rest. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Always check for any respiratory reaction and remove the sawdust or needles if any bear does have an adverse reaction. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Woodchips can be scented by being placed into a container which has held seasonings. (W661.Jun07.w14)
  • Provide aromatic boughs such as cedar or pine near a pool, platform, scratching post or sawdust pile, for the bears to play with or rub against. (W627.Mar06.w1)
    • Aromatic boughs can be placed high up partially inserted into scratching posts, so the bears have to stretch for them. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Aromatic browse can also provide scent enrichment. (W661.Jun07.w3)
  • Logs can provide olfactory enrichment. (W661.Jun07.w8)
    • Check that the logs are not contaminated with e.g. insecticide, and that they do not contain any metal pieces.
  • Flowers of non-toxic species can be hung up around the enclosure. (W661.Jun07.w6)
  • Honey, chunky peanut butter or fruit jam can be smeared onto platforms, trees or branches, encouraging climbing, stretching and general exploration. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Pieces of cloth can be scented e.g. with fruit scents then hung up around the enclosure. (W661.Jun07.w15)
    • Care must be taken that the cloth will not obstruct the gut if torn down and eaten. (W661.Jun07.w15)
  • Logs can be placed in enclosures with other species such as camels or goats, then into bear enclosures. (B33.7.w3, W661.Jun07.w13)
    • Care must be taken that bears do not become frustrated by smelling prey species without any outlet for hunting or foraging. (B33.7.w3)
    • Care must be taken that bears are not upset by scents of other large carnivores. (B33.7.w3)

(B33.7.w3, B407.w7, J23.29.w2, J328.93.w1P36.1994.w4, N4.23.w1, N19.3.w1, W627.Mar06.w1, W661.Jun07.w3, W661.Jun07.w5, W661.Jun07.w7, W661.Jun07.w8, W661.Jun07.w13)

Lagomorph Consideration

Domestic rabbit
Scent is very important in the social communication of rabbits; it is important to remember this. (J15.27.w2) 
  • Olfactory contact with a familiar rabbit appears to be important. (D376)
    • Olfactory communication with conspecifics, preferably familiar conspecifics, should be available even when physical contact cannot be provided. (Enclosure design and/or furnishings should provide rabbits with the opportunity to avoid social contact if they wish to do so. (D376), J232.46.w1)
  • Rabbits will spend time smelling new objects. (J495.41.w7)
  • In laboratory rabbits, it has been suggested that moving enrichment items between pens of rabbits would provide scent stimuli for the rabbits. (J83.27.w1)
  • Note: if an owner is scented (e.g. with a heavy perfume), the rabbit may anoint them. (J15.27.w2)
  • Partial rather than total cleaning out of a rabbit cage or pen is suggested to maintain the rabbit's scent and thus a sense of security. (W264.Dec08.w1)
  • Avoid the use of strong-smelling wood shavings - straw or shredded paper may be preferred alternatives. (W264.Dec08.w1)
  • It is important to make sure that the rabbit does not feel threatened, including by unusual smells. (J15.27.w2)
Wild lagomorphs
  • Scent is very important for lagomorphs.
Ferret Consideration The sense of smell is very important to ferrets. Scent enrichment can be provided in various forms including:
  • wooden blocks which have been dipped in novel scent or scented using scented candle wax;
  • scented marbles on a plate;
  • socks (worn, so human-scented) in a box;
  • bedding used by a dog, in a box. 
  • different treat foods, directly or hidden [these also provide scent enrichment]. 


  • Note: Ferrets use their sense of smell a lot, and are close to the ground. Inhalation of dust leads to loud sneezing which can be alarming, but is not, by itself, a sign of ill health. (B602.1.w1)
Bonobo Consideration
  • Herbs such as mint and lemon thyme can be rubbed onto objects and hidden in bedding/substrate. (R1.3Oct2008.w1)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

  • --

Return to top of  page

Sound Environment

Sound, like scent, is an aspect of the animal's environment which may be neglected when considering the environment and enrichment. Consideration of the role of sound should include reduction and/or masking of sounds which may stress an animal, and provision of sounds as enrichment.
  • Both brief loud noises and longer lasting moderate-level noises can adversely affect animals, as indicated by behaviour and physiological responses. (J54.23.w4)
  • In zoos, frequently there is too much noise of types which may adversely affect animals. (N19.3.w3)
  • Soil and vegetation in enclosures, rather than just concrete and metal, provides a dampening effect, reducing reflection of sound. (N19.3.w3)
  • Naturalistic sounds (e.g. rainforest, waterfall) or music may be used to mask sounds of zoo visitors; music such as classical music may also encourage some animals to relax.
    • Care should be taken to ensure that deliberately-provided noises do not exceed 70 decibels for long periods. (N19.3.w3)
  • For enrichment, various sounds can be used, including music, bells, vocalizations etc. (P82.7.w7)
    • These should be provided irregularly and at a level higher than background sounds. (N19.3.w3)
  • Recordings of conspecifics may encourage natural behaviour. (J23.28.w4) However, it is important to monitor the effects of such recordings, as some animals may find them stressful. (P107.1.w1)
  • Sound and scent can be used together for enrichment, for example in providing a "prey" item for predators or scavengers. (N19.2.w1)

(B429.32.w32, J23.28.w4, J54.23.w4, J147.11.w2, J288.100.w1, J288.102.w1, N19.2.w1, N19.3.w3, N19.11.w1, P82.5.w3, P82.5.w5, P82.7.w7)

Bear Consideration

Click here for full-page view with caption

  • Several polar bears have appeared to be stressed by loud noises, such as fun fairs, or construction sites, near their enclosures. (B407.w4)
  • Natural sounds, including recordings of conspecifics and other species may be used in enrichment. (J328.93.w1)
  • Music can be used. (J328.93.w1)
  • Objects can be provided which may a noise when the bear interacts with them: it was noted that Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bears appeared to enjoy banging plastic jugs, containing stones and hung up in the enclosure, so that they made a noise. (N19.10.w1)

Lagomorph Consideration

Lagomorphs have acute hearing. 
Domestic rabbit
  • Auditory communication with conspecifics should be available even when physical contact cannot be provided. (J232.46.w1)
  • In laboratory rabbits, it has been suggested that providing background noise may be a form of enrichment. (J83.27.w1)
  • Quiet, soothing music may be beneficial. (W731.Jan01.w1)
  • It is important to make sure that the rabbit does not feel threatened, including by unusual noises. (J15.27.w2)
  • House rabbits need to become accustomed to normal household noises, including e.g. appliances and various types of music. (B624)
Wild lagomorphs
  • Since lagomorphs have acute hearing, loud sounds are likely to be startling; avoid noise and general disturbance. (V.w5, V.w30)
Ferret Consideration
  • Consider playing bird songs to ferrets as a form of sound enrichment. (P120.2007.w7)
  • Consider playing music to ferrets as a form of sound enrichment. (W264.Sept11.w2)
  • Some ferrets are intrigued by noises while other ferrets find loud or strange noises upsetting. Take care to introduce toys which make noises gradually, under supervision. (D403 - full text included)
  • Responses to noises may vary from nothing to considerable excitement. Responses to high-pitched squeaks generally vary from curiosity to aggression; female ferrets may show a frenzied and aggressive response associated with the maternal response to high pitched squeaks from kits. (J213.4.w7)
  • Note that ferrets which are not accustomed to dogs may be stressed by the sounds of dogs and should preferably be kept away from these when in a veterinary surgery. (B631.18.w18) 
Bonobo Consideration
  • Environmental noise pollution, including noise of machinery, metal doors clanging, loud human voices etc. may be stressful for primates and this should be considered and mitigated against whenever possible. (B670.2.w2)
  • There is some evidence for music having a positive effect on the behaviour of nonhuman primates (e.g. reduced agonistic interaction). The type of music provided can affect the response of the primates. (J232.46.w2)
  • Given the choice, rhesus monkeys chose to have a radio on for more than 12 hours a day, and continued in this for a prolonged period. (J232.46.w2)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

  • --

Return to top of  page

Feeding Methods

In the wild, most species spend a large proportion of their day in acquiring food. Food in zoos may be presented in a prepared form which, while nutritionally adequate and balanced, does not take much time to eat. Different feeding methods may markedly affect the amount of time taken for animals to acquire, process and consume foods, as well as the activity involved in doing so. Compared to the "standard" presentation of prepared (e.g. canned, cubed) food in a bowl, the following methods are recommended to increase foraging behaviour and the time spent in feeding:
  • Scatter feeding of small items.
  • Feeding carnivores with whole carcasses which they have to tear up prior to eating, or large pieces of meat "on the bone" - the appropriate size of the carcass or meat pieces will vary with the species.
  • Giving food inside ice blocks.
  • Hiding food items for the animal to find (in holes, brush piles, natural ground cover, other substrates).
  • Hanging foods up so that the animal has to climb or jump to reach the food.
  • Providing food inside logs, tubes etc. so that the animal has to manipulate the container or use a tool to reach the food.
  • Placing appropriate foods in a pool or bowl of water so that the animal has to retrieve them from the surface (if they float) or from underwater.
  • Providing appropriate live food such as mealworms or crickets inside a dispenser (mealworm tube, cricket log) so that the insects become available at unpredictable times.
  • Use of mechanical devices which the animal manipulates (physically or vocally) in order for food to be delivered.

Ideally, feeding methods should provide the animal with the opportunities to obtain food "as a consequence of their own activities." (J23.35.w7)

Note: Many enriched feeding methods require that the keeper enters the enclosure (e.g. to hide food items or hang foods up on furnishings). When working with dangerous animals, this means that for enrichment to occur regularly, it is important that the animals are trained by positive reinforcement to move between sections of the enclosure (e.g. from the outside to holding dens) in a reliable manner. See: Mammal Handling & Movement - Husbandry Training

Note: feeding of carnivores provides extra problems in consideration of meeting the animal's behavioural requirements. Provision of live vertebrate prey can be considered, but the welfare of both the predator and the prey must be taken into account.

  • In the UK, the Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice states: "Although the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 to 1964 do not prohibit the feeding of animals with live prey, the live feeding of vertebrate prey should be avoided save in exceptional circumstances, and then only under veterinary advice. Where any live prey must be used, its welfare must be considered as well as any potential injury which might be caused to the predator." (D15 - Secretary of States Standards of Modern Zoo Practice - full text provided)
  • Results of a multi-facility study on carnivores indicated that a combination of carcass feeding and environmental enrichment such as novel scents, objects and feeding methods (e.g. barrels, suspended sacks, scents, feeder balls, ice blocks, imitation prey, tug-of-war rope), could, between them, elicit the whole range of feeding behaviours (at least in felids, the species for which the most data was available). (P86.7.w1)

(D15 - full text provided, N4.16.w1, N4.16.w2, N4.16.w3, N4.21.w3, P86.7.w1, P108.12.w1, V.w5)

Animal health and safety considerations
  • Care must be taken to ensure that food provided for enrichment, and methods of feeding, do not present a health risk. (B439.16.w16, J54.22.w3 W643.June06.w3)
  • It may be necessary to ensure that nutritionally complete foods are eaten before providing "treats" which are preferred but which do not provide a balanced diet. (B439.16.w16)
  • Foods which quickly decompose or deteriorate are not appropriate for scatter feeding or hiding unless (a) it is highly probable that the animal(s) will retrieve and eat the items quickly, before they deteriorate; (2) it is possible to safely retrieve the items if they are not eaten.
    • This includes meat and fish, also e.g. nuts and pelleted food which may become mouldy.
  • Where carcasses are given it is important to ensure that the animal was not ill (since this risks transmitting the disease), nor euthanased with a chemical which could affect the animals the carcass is given to. 
    • It may be preferable to freeze the carcass for a period of time before using it as food (after thawing) to reduce the risk of transmitting parasites and microorganisms
    • Carcasses should undergo a veterinary inspection prior to being used as food. If the cause of death is unknown the carcass should not be used. 
    • Known disease risks should be avoided (e.g. heads of cattle should not be given to carnivores due to the risk of transmitting BSE).
    • Consider any potential risks of animals being injured by bones, feathers etc. (e.g. impaction).
  • If live food is given (e.g. fish) then consider the potential disease risks. (P20.1998.w9)
  • Browse should not be given if there is doubt whether the browse might be toxic, or if it may have had fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides applied.
  • There is a risk of aggression towards subordinate animals when items are scattered for foraging, or when social feeding is practiced (e.g. a carcass given to a pack of carnivores), or when mechanical devices allow food to be "ordered" by the animals.
    • Favoured items should be scattered widely to allow subordinate as well as dominant individuals the chance to forage for and get the items.
    • For carcass feeding, pieces of carcass might be given and these gradually presented closer together so that the individuals get used to eating closer together before a carcass is given whole.
  • If live prey is given there is a risk of the prey animal harming the predator.
    • Note: use of live vertebrate prey may not be legal.
    • The prey should not be able to seriously injure the predator.
  • If a mechanical device is to be used it is important to consider:
    • Whether the device is safe for the animals (including all animals in the enclosure), including "Can they:
      • eat it and get hardware disease?
      • use it as a weapon versus cage mates or visitors?
      • be cut or lacerated by it?
      • cause part of it to fall on or trap a cage mate?
      • become shocked or electrocuted?
      • use it to get out of the enclosure?


    • Whether it can be cleaned properly;
    • Whether it can be checked visually from outside the enclosure;
    • Whether it can be necessary removed quickly and easily (e.g. for cleaning and any necessary maintenance or repairs);
    • That food acquired from the device will not lead to animals receiving an unbalanced diet;
    • Whether the device may lead to aggression between animals.
    • Any risk of the device causing damage to the animal from regular or excessive use (e.g. wear to a bird's bill or a mammal's teeth.

(B439.16.w1, B467.14.w14, P86.7.w2, V.w5, W643.June06.w3)

  • If a mechanical device is to be used it is important to consider also the costs in building and developing appropriate equipment, whether the device will be beneficial to the animal, whether it has been designed around species-specific requirements, and whether the device is suitable for the physical environment. (B467.13.w13)
  • Foraging time needed to gain sufficient food should not be increased beyond the normal time for which wild conspecifics would forage. Requiring animals to forage for longer times might, particularly with small species with a high metabolic rate, lead to adverse effects such as a reduced reproductive rate. (J418.56.w1)

Descriptions of these techniques, including the species they may be used for, and further comments are provided in: The Environmental Husbandry Manual - full text included

Bear Consideration

Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with captionClick here for full page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with captionClick here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption  Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with caption

In the wild, for most bear species most of the time, food sources are scattered and the bear has to travel to reach different foods. Additionally, food must be gathered by digging through soil, tearing open logs, turning over stones, climbing trees and gathering branches etc. Bears may spend large proportions of the day foraging and take in food in a number of relatively small meals rather than one large meal (there are exceptions, such as polar bears feeding on seals, brown bears feeding on large mammal carcasses or spawning salmon, etc.). Feeding methods in captivity can be designed to simulate some of the foraging and food manipulation behaviours used by wild bears. 

Bears, as opportunistic feeders, normally constantly investigate and test their environment, foraging for food items by a variety of methods including digging, tearing open logs, debarking trees, turning over stones etc. (J54.10.w2, P36.1994.w4) Bears therefore are good targets for enrichment by food presentation.

  • Giving a good variety of food provides stimulation as well as nutrition. (B407.w6, N19.2.w2)
  • Bears should be provided with food in small quantities several times during the day, at irregular intervals and by a variety of methods. (J23.18.w4, J328.93.w1, N19.2.w2)
  • Bears are stimulated to undertake natural foraging behaviour by offering them food in ways which mimic natural food availability, for example by the food being hidden around the enclosure and/or in objects which have to be manipulated in order to obtain the food. Provision of enrichment based on searching for food and food manipulation can also reduce functionless behaviours such as walking and pacing. (J54.10.w2, N19.2.w2, P36.1994.w4) 
    • A study of adult grizzly bears (Ursus arctos - Brown bear) found that all bears chose to spend time manipulating ice blocks and boxes containing food, whether or not food was freely available. (P82.7.w4)


  • Food provided in a single meal, in one location, e.g. as a pile or in a trough, does not give the bear the opportunity to use foraging activities to obtain the food, nor does it stimulate foraging activities. (B407.w7, N19.2.w2)
  • Mechanical feeding devices which deliver food to a predictable location and do not provide encouragement to engage in foraging behaviours have not effectively reduced pacing behaviours in bears. (P36.1994.w4, J54.10.w2)
  • Keepers throwing food to bears from a certain point (e.g., an enclosure outlook) may lead to development of associated stereotypic behaviour in bears anticipating this feeding. (J434.67.w1)
  • It has been noted that "bears benefit if their food expectations are met promptly (as early in the morning as possible), and regularly (no starve days). (B446.w4)
  • Older bears which have not previously been provided with any of the feeding methods indicated below may take some time to make use of them. (D247.5.w5)
  • The bear's overall diet must be considered, so that bears do not eat enrichment items and neglect other parts of the diet which are nutritionally important. Additionally, risks of dietary enrichment items leading to tooth decay, obesity, gastro-intestinal upsets and allergic reactions must be considered, and the possibility of toxins present e.g. in browse (both toxic plants and chemicals such as pesticides which may contaminate them). (J328.93.w1, N4.23.w2)

Options for feeding enrichment of bears

Maximum stimulation of foraging behaviours may be obtained by a combination of manipulable permanent furnishings in which small foods can be hidden and novel manipulable objects containing food. (J54.10.w2)
  • Food can be scattered around the enclosure; in a relatively bare enclosure it will be easy to find, but in long grass etc. the bears have to search for it more. (B407.w7, B407.w9, J328.93.w1)
    • Bears are very good at finding even very small pieces of food in long vegetation. (B407.w7)
    • Even in a bare enclosure, scattering food can be beneficial. In one study of Ursus arctos - Brown bear, providing clover (one of the main summer foods) scattered, rather than in one place, resulted in increased time spent feeding (from 4% to 13% of the day), and decreased time spent in context-free behaviours during the period after this food was provided. The bears also developed a more natural rhythm of alternating feeding and sleeping. (J433.2.w1)
    • Hiding places can include hollow logs, branch piles, leaf litter etc. (N19.13.w1)
    • Scatter feeding with whole, unshelled nuts may increase the time spent foraging, as the bears have to open each nut and extract the contents. (N4.23.w2)
  • Vegetation within the enclosure (grass substrate, shrubs, etc.) provides a natural source of food for the bears to obtain for themselves; insects will also be found in and around natural substrates and act as an additional food source for the bears to pursue or stalk. (B407.w7, D265.6.w6)
  • Foods can be scattered/hidden e.g. in wood piles which the bears must then search through and tear apart to reach the food. (B407.w7)
  • Food can be stuffed into holes in climbing structures, or into sections of bamboo, or into holes drilled in small logs. (N4.23.w2, N19.1.w2)
  • Small food items can be given inside cardboard boxes filled with straw; the bear has to tear the box apart and find the food. (N4.23.w2)
    • The box must be held together with non-toxic glue, not staples. (N4.23.w2)
  • Food items can be provided inside, or treacle dribbled into, the large cardboard tubes from rolls of carpet. (N4.23.w2)
  • A cricket dispenser can be provided: a hollow log or a PVC pipe, drilled with holes through which the crickets can emerge, and filled with newspaper and crickets. (P36.1994.w4, W661.Jun07.w4)
  • Honey, treacle, syrup or peanut butter can be sprinkled or smeared onto objects, sometimes in places difficult to get at, to stimulate natural foraging and exploratory behaviour. If provided high up e.g. in a tree, it can also encourage climbing. (B434, N19.2.w2)
  • Honey can be provided from a hidden source:
    • Provide a honey tree: a dead tree in which a bowl at the top of the tree is filled with honey from a container. (N4.16.w3, P36.1994.w4)
      • At Copenhagen Zoo, a "honey pump" hidden at the top of a dead oak tree trunk provides honey in a small stainless steel bowl at random intervals three or four times a day. (B434, P73.4.w1)
    • This encourages the bears to climb up the tree trunk, getting exercise, as well as providing an occupation.
    • At Glasgow Zoo, honey was provided from a simple dispenser (rabbit watering bottle with the top cut off) placed in the top of a tree and trickling out through a narrow hole in the side of the trunk. Only minimum paw holds were available on the tree, so the bears (Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear) had to work to get at the honey. (B407.w7)
    • At Adelaide Zoo, honeycomb strips were placed as far as possible into 40 mm diameter holes holes drilled 200 mm deep into rotten logs, for Helarctos malayanus - Sun bears to reach by tearing open the logs. (N19.13.w2)
    • At Woodland Park Zoo, a "honey log" has been used for Helarctos malayanus - Sun bears, attached to the wall or climbing structure with an eye bolt. Honey (or e.g. molasses, mashed banana, spices) is placed in a hollowed chamber in the middle of the log, and blocked up with wooden dowels, which the bear must remove to reach the treats. (N19.3.w2)
  • Tasty tit-bits such as berries, whole pea plants etc. stimulate foraging and increase activity levels.
  • Whole food items (rather than chopped or prepared), such as whole coconuts, encourage food handling behaviours. (B434, J328.93.w1)
  • Pumpkins can be filled with a mixture of food and buried and/or covered with browse and leaf litter, so the bears have to use their sense of smell to find the food, then tear the pumpkin apart to get at the food inside. (N19.13.w2)
  • Pumpkins can be filled with a mixture of food and hung up for the bear. (N19.13.w2)
  • Live food such as larvae or mealworms can be offered scattered on the ground and in objects such as rotting logs to stimulate foraging activity. (B434, J328.93.w1, N19.1.w2)
  • Live rats have been provided for bears, in an environment with places such as hollow logs in which the rats could hide. It was noted that it was important to provide other enrichment items at the same time if the number of rats was less than the number of bears in the exhibit. (N19.7.w1)
    • It was estimated that about 15% of rats released into the exhibit escaped predation. Only male rats were released, to avoid the possibility of creating a pest population, and those which became established in the exhibit were live-trapped and removed. (N19.7.w1)
  • Give fish in the pool. (N19.2.w2)
  • Live fish can be provided in a moat or pool to allow natural hunting behaviour. (B434, N19.1.w2, N19.2.w1)
    • Note: Consideration must be given to the welfare of the fish and any relevant country-specific welfare legislation. In the UK, the Secretary of State's Standards of Modern Zoo Practice states: "Although the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 to 1964 do not prohibit the feeding of animals with live prey, the live feeding of vertebrate prey should be avoided save in exceptional circumstances, and then only under veterinary advice. Where any live prey must be used, its welfare must be considered as well as any potential injury which might be caused to the predator." (D15 - Secretary of States Standards of Modern Zoo Practice - full text provided)
  • Give food in ice blocks. (P36.1994.w4, N4.16.w1, N4.21.w3, N4.23.w2, N19.1.w2, N19.2.w2, N19.3.w1, W627.Mar06.w1, W661.Jun07.w11)
    • If possible, freeze in layers so that the food is at different levels within the ice block, not all at the bottom. (W627.Mar06.w11)
    • Suitable foods include fish, peanuts, ripe fruits, raisins, nuts and seeds. (W627.Mar06.w1, W661.Jun07.w11)
    • "Fish water" left after fish such as herring have been defrosted can also be frozen. (N4.23.w2)
  • Drag a smelly food item such as meat or fish around the enclosure to provide a scent trail for the bears to follow. Sometimes leave food at the end of the scent trail. (B407.w7P36.1994.w4)
  • Melons, squash, coconuts and pumpkins are play items as well as food items. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Make feeder logs with holes drilled into them (wood, bamboo or PVC pipe), into which a variety of food treats such as peanut butter, honey, jam, grapes, raisins, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, pieces of fruit and vegetables, mealworms and cereals can be placed for the bears to retrieve. (B407.w7, N19.4.w1, P36.1994.w4)
    • Holes can be plugged e.g. with a piece of bread which the bear must remove before a more attractive treat placed at the bottom of the hole can be reached. (B407.w7)
    • Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bears were noted to suck to obtain raisins from the bottom of holes in feeder logs, rather than using their long tongues to extract the treats. (B407.w7)
  • Provide browse (branches with leaves on). (D265.6.w6, N19.2.w1, W661.Jun07.w3)
  • Bury clay or PVC pipes in the ground vertically, then drop pieces of food into the pipes for the bears to hook out. (B407.w7, P36.1994.w4)
    • Bears may use different methods for extracting different types of food.
    • If the bears become very adept at extracting food items, branches may be placed into the pipes over the food so the bears have to remove these first. (B407.w7)
  • Offer browse and whole corn stalks. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Hide meat chunks in a rock or log pile. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Give foods such as meat and fruit in tyres, whether lying on the ground or suspended, so the bears have to scoop out the food and, if the tyre is suspended, deal with the swinging of the tyre. (N4.21.w3)
  • Plant edible plants in the enclosure, allowing the bears to forage for natural foods. Suitable plants will vary depending on climate but include clover, dandelions, oats and tender young grasses as well as fruit-bearing vines (e.g. blackberry (bramble), grapes, melon), fruit trees (apple, plum, cherry), nut trees and bushes (e.g. hazelnut, oak, walnut). (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Hide a honeycomb in a log or tree trunk; beekeepers may be willing to supply left-over comb following honey harvesting. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Give large bones (e.g. beef hip and leg bones) with meat and gristle on. (N19.3.w1)
  • Hide food in logs or tree hollows, under rocks or buried. (B407.w6, W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Dry complete extruded foods, nuts in shells, fruits (dried or fresh), raw sweet potatoes, carrots, dog biscuits, seeded sunflower heads can all be hidden or hung up on branches. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Skewer food pieces on branches. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Cover pine cones or gourds with seeds, honey and peanut butter, then hang them from trees. (W627.Mar06.w1, )
  • Stuff large pine cones with foods such as raisins, peanuts, dates, peanut butter and honey. (N19.3.w1, W661.Jun07.w12)
    • Stuffing the cones takes time, but can be carried out by volunteers or e.g. school groups (under supervision) with excess cones stored frozen. (N19.3.w1, W661.Jun07.w12)
  • Hang up canvas or mesh bags containing food. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • Provide food inside a large hollow container (e.g. a 180 L whiskey barrel) with holes drilled into it (e.g. 10 cm diameter, or smaller to make extracting the food items more difficult) so that the container must be manipulated for the bears to get the food. (B407.w6)
  • Provide food inside large pieces of heavy (clay) pipe, too long for the bears to get the food by reaching into the pipe; they have to lift up one end so the food falls out, or roll the pipe around so the food moves to one end. (B407.w7)
  • Hang up plastic barrels with holes in the sides near the bottom and place food inside, so the bears have to bang at the barrels until the food falls out. (N19.10.w1)
  • Give appropriate food in the pond, for example whole apples (which float) and carrots (which sink and must be retrieved by the bear from the bottom). (B407.w7)
    • A Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear was noted to retrieve carrots by feeling with a hind paw, grasping it and lifting it with that paw to a forepaw, and then from the fore paw to his mouth. (B407.w7)
    • Pellets of extruded diets also float for some time and can be provided in a pond or water bowl. (V.w5)
Animal health and safety considerations
  • Potential medical complications associated with behavioural enrichment techniques involving feeding should be considered before the enrichment is used. (J2.32.w4)
    • There is a single report of foot infection associated with a foreign body (piece of turkey bone) presumably originating from a whole turkey carcase given to a Ursus maritimus - Polar bear as part of food-related environmental enrichment. Continued use of this enrichment after the diagnosis did not result in any further problems. (J2.32.w4)
Suggestions for individual bear species

For Ursus arctos - Brown bear

  • Leafy branches. (D247.5.w5)
  • Small coniferous trees (these may be widely available after Christmas). (D247.5.w5)
  • branches bearing berries (e.g. elder) or nuts. (D247.5.w5)
  • Ice blocks containing food. (D247.5.w5)
  • Root vegetables such as carrots hidden in soil, bark litter or straw on the ground. (D247.5.w5)
  • Logs with holes in them, into which mealworms, crickets or honey are placed, the hole then being closed with a wooden dowel or short twig. (D247.5.w5)
    • If there is a water moat, logs must be attached to the ground or to a fixed object. (D247.5.w5)
  • Vertical pipes sunk into the ground and containing small items such as raisins. (D247.5.w5)
  • Pegs at various heights with food items stuck on the pegs. (D247.5.w5)
  • A log, suspended using a rope and counterweight, bearing pegs with food items on. (D247.5.w5)
  • Apples tossed to float in the pool. (D247.5.w5)
  • Large bones (cattle, equine). (D247.5.w5)
  • Hides. (D247.5.w5)
  • Grass turfs. (D247.5.w5)
  • A plastic barrel on the ground, chained to an immovable object, and with a large hole cut in the top. Food is placed in the barrel for the bear to retrieve; this can be made more complex by adding sticks, straw etc. on top of the food in the barrel. (N19.10.w1)

For Ursus americanus - American black bear, Ursus thibetanus - Asiatic black bear

  • Leafy branches. (D247.5.w5)
  • Small coniferous trees (these may be widely available after Christmas). (D247.5.w5)
  • Branches bearing berries (e.g. elder) or nuts. (D247.5.w5)
  • Ice blocks containing food. (D247.5.w5)including e.g. blobs of peanut butter or jam (jelly). (P36.1994.w4)
  • Root vegetables such as carrots hidden in soil, bark litter or straw on the ground. (D247.5.w5)
  • Logs with holes in them, into which mealworms, crickets or honey are placed, the hole then being closed with a wooden dowel or short twig. (D247.5.w5)
    • If there is a water moat, logs must be attached to the ground or to a fixed object. (D247.5.w5)
  • Vertical pipes sunk into the ground and containing small items such as raisins. (D247.5.w5)
  • Pegs at various heights with food items stuck on the pegs. (D247.5.w5)
  • A log, suspended using a rope and counterweight, bearing pegs with food items on. (D247.5.w5)
  • Apples tossed to float in the pool. (D247.5.w5)
  • Large bones (cattle, equine). (D247.5.w5)
  • Hides. (D247.5.w5)
  • Grass turfs. (D247.5.w5)
  • Leafy branches or conifers fixed upright. (D247.5.w5)
  • Upright tree trunks with holes drilled into them and food placed in the holes, so the bears have to climb to reach the food. (D247.5.w5)
  • Food in large boxes, plastic drums or burlap bags. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Food in papier-mâché balls (formed around a balloon). (P36.1994.w4)
  • Novel food items such as sugar cane, ketchup, chilli peppers, barbecue sauce or salsa can be offered. (P36.1994.w4)
  • For sloth bears: crickets, mealworms and rotten logs full of insects are particularly appreciated (P36.1994.w4)
  • For sun bears, foods which are difficult to process, such as coconuts, and foods hidden in elevated locations are appreciated. (P36.1994.w4)
  • An iceblock containing frozen food can be placed into a container with a chute so that as the ice melts pieces of food fall out. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Floating foods such as apples can be given in the water. (W627.Mar06.w1)
  • A plastic barrel on the ground, chained to an immovable object, and with a large hole cut in the top. Food is placed in the barrel for the bear to retrieve; this can be made more complex by adding sticks, straw etc on top of the food in the barrel. (N19.10.w1)

For Ursus maritimus - Polar bear

  • Feed polar bears several feeds a day, including one feed in the morning. This may reduce stereotypic behaviour which develops when bears are waiting to be fed. (P36.1994.w4)
  • Scatter feeding. (N19.7.w2)
  • Food in ice blocks formed in large buckets or tubs. (D247.5.w5)
  • Food such as fish or nuts in a plastic container with small openings through which the food can be accessed. (D247.5.w5)
  • Whole larger fruits such as melons or cucumbers. (D247.5.w5)
  • Branches may be given if sufficient browse is available (other species of bears should be given brows in preference to it being given to polar bears, if the supply of suitable branches is limited). (D247.5.w5)
  • Traffic cones or buckets with foods such as honey, ketchup or mayonnaise smeared on or inside the cone/bucket. (D247.5.w5)
  • Large bones (bovine, equine). (D247.5.w5)
  • Hides. (D247.5.w5)
  • Live fish in the water. (B434, N19.7.w2) Note: Consider animal welfare regulations relating to the fish.
  • Live invertebrates. (N19.7.w2)
  • A range of foods including fish, crabs squid, mealworms, rats, mustard, bones, eggplant (aubergine), crickets, watermelon, tomatoes, blackberries. (P36.1994.w4)
  • A special apparatus has been used allowing polar bears to "order" fish by barking into a microphone; they then have to dive to get the fish. This both allows the bears a degree of choice and control in feeding, and encourages exercise. (J23.18.w2)
    • It was noted that stereotypic behaviour was reduced in a male polar bear with this enrichment. (J23.18.w2)
  • A variety of fruit and vegetables can be given; the bears may show more interest in some than in others. (N19.1.w1)

For Melursus ursinus - Sloth bear, Helarctos malayanus - Sun bear

  • Leafy branches. (B407.w9, D247.5.w5)
  • Small coniferous trees (these may be widely available after Christmas). (D247.5.w5)
  • branches bearing berries (e.g. elder) or nuts. (D247.5.w5)
  • Ice blocks containing food, (D247.5.w5) or fruit juice ice blocks. (N19.4.w1)
  • Root vegetables such as carrots hidden in soil, bark litter or straw on the ground. (D247.5.w5)
  • Logs with holes in them, into which mealworms, crickets, honey, mashed banana, molasses or spices are placed, the hole then being closed with a wooden dowel or short twig. (D247.5.w5, N19.3.w2)
    • If there is a water moat, logs must be attached to the ground or to a fixed object. (D247.5.w5)
  • Wood, bamboo or PVC pipe logs containing small food items such as mealworms, cereal, raisins, peanuts in shells, which sloth bears can "vacuum suck" out of the feeder. (N19.4.w1)
  • Vertical pipes sunk into the ground and containing small items such as raisins. (D247.5.w5)
  • Pegs at various heights with food items stuck on the pegs. (D247.5.w5)
  • A log, suspended using a rope and counterweight, bearing pegs with food items on. (D247.5.w5)
  • Apples tossed to float in the pool. (D247.5.w5)
  • Large bones (cattle, equine). (D247.5.w5)
  • Hides. (D247.5.w5)
  • Grass turfs. (D247.5.w5)
  • Leafy branches or conifers fixed upright. (D247.5.w5)
  • Applesauce and other fruit scents (e.g. vanilla, fruit juice, coconut) sprayed around from a spray bottle. (N19.4.w1)
  • Upright tree trunks with holes drilled into them and food placed in the holes, so the bears have to climb to reach the food. (D247.5.w5)
  • Tree trunks; trunks with honey or raisins. (B407.w9)
  • Barrels. (B407.w9)
  • Rotten logs for the bears to tear apart. (D247.5.w5)
  • Whole coconuts. (D247.5.w5)
  • Coconuts with holes in, filled with either "giant ant-eater diet" or chopped mealworms, for the bears to suck out. (D247.5.w5)
  • Boomer balls® with crickets in, which the bear can suck out or get at once they exit the ball. (N19.4.w1)
  • Popcorn in a paper bag (occasional treat). (N19.4.w1)
  • Note: enrichment may be provided safely for such solitary animals housed in one enclosure so long as observational safeguards permit modification or cessation of the environmental enrichment if aggression increases. (J433.9.w1)
  • Honeycomb strips placed as far as possible into 40 mm diameter holes holes drilled 200 mm deep into rotten logs, for Helarctos malayanus - Sun bears to reach by tearing open the logs. (N19.13.w2)

For Tremarctos ornatus - Spectacled bear

  • Leafy branches. (D247.5.w5)
  • Small coniferous trees (these may be widely available after Christmas). (D247.5.w5)
  • Branches bearing berries (e.g. elder) or nuts. (D247.5.w5)
  • Ice blocks containing food. (D247.5.w5)
  • Root vegetables such as carrots hidden in soil, bark litter or straw on the ground. (D247.5.w5)
  • Logs with holes in them, into which mealworms, crickets, raisins or honey are placed (without the holes being closed) (D247.5.w5, J54.18.w2)
    • If there is a water moat, logs must be attached to the ground or to a fixed object. (D247.5.w5)
  • Vertical pipes sunk into the ground and containing small items such as raisins (D247.5.w5) or a variety of foods such as apples, pears, pieces of bread, endives. (J54.18.w2)
  • Slices of vegetables (e.g. cornstalks, broccoli, carrots, Brussel sprouts, pea vines) and fruit (e.g. apple, orange, grape, banana, melon, pineapple) stuffed into bamboo tubes or into pine cones, or hidden in logs and under rocks. (N19.4.w1)
  • Small items such as peanuts, raisins, cereal and popcorn scattered over the enclosure. N19.4.w1
  • Applesauce spread onto rocks. (N19.4.w1)
  • Pegs at various heights with food items stuck on the pegs. (D247.5.w5)
  • A log, suspended using a rope and counterweight, bearing pegs with food items on. (D247.5.w5)
  • A plastic barrel, hung up, with holes in; the bear has to knock the barrel to get the treats to fall out. (N19.10.w1)
  • Apples tossed to float in the pool. (D247.5.w5)
  • Large bones (cattle, equine). (D247.5.w5)
  • Hides. (D247.5.w5)
  • Grass turfs. (D247.5.w5)
  • Leafy branches or conifers fixed upright. (D247.5.w5)
  • Upright tree trunks with holes drilled into them and food placed in the holes, so the bears have to climb to reach the food. (D247.5.w5)
  • A paper sack containing fruit, fixed high up so that the bear has to stand on its hind legs or climb to reach and tea open the sack to get the fruit. (D247.5.w5)
  • Food such as peanuts scattered into branch piles. (J54.18.w2)
  • Racks holding fresh browse. (J54.18.w2)
  • Browse such as palm fronds, flower buds or bamboo cane hidden in pipes or tied to trees with raffia string. (N19.4.w1)
  • Fruit juice ice block, with or without fruit inside. (N19.4.w1)
  • Provision of a honey tree (a dead tree which the bears climb to reach honey pumped into a hollow 3.5 m above the ground). (J54.18.w2)
  • Hiding food in concrete tubes in the ground, for bears to find and retrieve. (J54.18.w2)

Descriptions of several feeding techniques/devices/methods which may be used for bears are provided in: The Environmental Husbandry Manual - full text included. See for example: Whole Mammalian Carcass Feeds, Brush Piles, Scatter Feeds, Equi-Ball

Lagomorph Consideration

Rabbit pen with hite etc. Click here for full page view with caption Rabbit eating vegetables. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit eating herb. Click here for full page view with caption. Rabbit with hay and water. Click here for full page view with caption.

In the wild, lagomorphs spend large amounts of their time feeding. An effective enrichment method is to provide food which it takes them time to eat. Rabbits should also be provided with appropriate items (food such as hay, or wood sticks) for chewing. (J232.46.w1)
Domestic rabbit
  • Make sure hay is always available for the rabbit to eat. (D350, N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Feeding hay from a rack or net can increase the length of time it takes for the rabbit to eat it, preventing boredom. (B339.8.w8)
  • Hay can be fed stuffed into an old plastic water bottle for the rabbit, so the rabbit takes longer to obtain it. (B620) or in a brown untreated paper bag. (N36.Jan05.w1)
  • Vegetables can be fed suspended from the roof of the cage by a piece of wire. (B339.8.w8, B620, N36.Jan05.w1)
  • Offer a carrot wrapped up in plain (untreated) brown paper so the rabbit has to get through the paper to reach the carrot. (N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Concentrate food can be scattered on the floor or in bedding rather than just given in a bowl. (D350, J232.46.w1, N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Concentrate food can be hidden e.g. under upturned flowerpots for the rabbit to search out. (B620, N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Concentrate foods can be given inside a puzzle-feeder such as a ball with holes in, so that the food pieces drop out as the ball is moved. (N34.Autumn07.w2)
  • Note: 
    • Consider feeding the rabbit most of its food in the evening rather than the morning; wild rabbits feed at mainly dusk and dawn, rather than during the day (B620), and experimentally, feeding in the afternoon rather than the morning reduced abnormal behaviour of caged laboratory rabbits. (J83.33.w3)
    • Offering different types of food may provide taste enrichment. (J232.46.w1)
    • Provide enriched methods of feeding daily - but alternate different methods so they remain stimulating for the rabbit. (B620)
  • Give access to the garden for rabbits to chose their own wild plants. Rabbits given access to a garden will eat a variety of plants, showing individual preferences, and eating not only new shoots but also older, fibrous vegetation, tree leaves (particularly fallen leaves in autumn), bark from branches and the bases of trees, and exposed roots (they may chew through these). (B600.2.w2)
    • Note: they will also eat herbs, annual bedding plants and ornamental shrubs if these are accessible. (B600.2.w2)
  • Offer suitable branches - e.g. apple, hazel or willow. (B624)
Wild lagomorphs
  • As for domestic rabbits, wild lagomorphs should be provided with food in a manner which increases the time spent feeding.
  • Wild lagomorphs provided with natural vegetation will spend time eating that vegetation. (J23.26.w2, J23.15.w6, J331.89.w1)
  • Provision of branches to eat appears to be appreciated by wild lagomorphs. (J372.X2008.w1, J51.19.w1)
Ferret Consideration
  • Ferrets should be fed little and often, and an absolute minimum of twice a day. (B652.5.w5)
    • Given the opportunity, they will eat as many as 9 - 10 small meals a day. (B232.3.w3)
  • If there are six or more ferrets living together, a whole rabbit carcass can be provided. (B651.5.w5)
  • Treat foods can be given occasionally. (P120.2007.w7)
    • An occasional raw egg (in shell, for the ferret to break into) can be provided as a ferret treat. (B631.17.w7, B651.5.w5, B652.5.w5)
    • A raw bone can be given as a treat. (B631.17.w17)
  • Hard foot (pelleted food) can be made more interesting by:
    • scatter feeding; (B631.17.w17)
    • hiding the food around the cage/enclosure for the ferret to find; (P120.2007.w7)
    • hiding the food in enrichment devices such as balls with holes in, tubes, or boxes, for the ferret to retrieve. (B631.17.w17)
  • Crickets can be provided occasionally. (W264.Sept11.w2)
Bonobo Consideration

Bonobo with browse Forage tray Feeder barrel for bonobos Bonobo with hose strips smeared with honey Feeder log with holes Bonobos using tube feeder Scatter feeding pieces of vegetable

Increased time spent in feeding can be encouraged by:

  • Providing browse.
  • Scattering food including e.g. seedsfor the bonobos so that they have to forage through the substrate (grass, hay, straw, woodwool, leaves).
  • Providing food (e.g. honey, small nuts, seeds, peanut butter) in holes in logs or wooden blocks , to be retrieved using sticks as tools
  • Giving fruits or vegetables whole rather than chopped.
  • Hiding food in boxes or tree trunks.
  • Placing small items of food into a container (e.g. a bottle) stuffed with woodwool to stop it falling out.
  • Placing food items into cervices e.g. in tree trunks
  • Hiding food inside jute bags tied with rope.
  • Placing food on a mesh roof of an enclosure.
  • Placing food (peanuts) inside a boomer ball with only one or two hols for the nuts to fall out, then placing this on the mesh roof.
  • Giving frozen juice blocks/"ice lollies".
  • Providing a "termite mound" with e.g. honey or human baby food inside.

(D386.3.3.w3c, J288.90.w1, J334.80.w1)

Food should be provided in several places to ensure that subordinate males are not prevented from feeding. (D386.3.3.w3c)

  • At some zoos, it has been necessary to separate some individuals for feeding, to ensure they get enough food, or get their share of favoured items. (D386.3.3.w3c)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Sleeping and Nesting Facilities

Design of appropriate sleeping and nesting facilities requires consideration of the animals' social behaviour as well as their size and general habits. 
  • Sleeping areas or nest boxes need to be sufficiently large for the animal; conversely many species appear to feel more secure in a nest box which is relatively small. 
  • If a species is social, nest boxes need to be large enough for an appropriate social group to sleep together.
  • For arboreal and semi-arboreal species, raised sleeping accommodation is generally preferred, while semi-fossorial species may prefer an artificial burrow.
  • If possible, several different sleeping areas/nest boxes should be provided, allowing each animal to choose its preferred location, remembering that those lowest down in any hierarchy will have the last choice. Often it is best to provide at least one more nest box or sleeping area than the number of animals in the enclosure, to allow a degree of choice for all individuals.
  • Particular care is required in designing and siting nest boxes, dens etc. in which pregnant females can give birth. It is important that these provide the seclusion which many species require.

Bear Consideration

Click here for full-page view with caption Click here for full-page view with captionClick here for full-page view with caption Click here for full page view with caption

Bears in the wild make use of dens and/or tree nests. Bears may make day nests on the ground in suitable substrates. Further information is available in: Sleeping platforms and/or raised nests should be available in indoor areas; semi-arboreal bear species will use raised nests if these are made available. For more information see: Accommodation Design for Mammals - Housing Facilities
  • Given the opportunity, many bears will excavate dens in earth banks. 
  • Soft substrates should be available in which bears can make day or night nests for themselves.
  • For cubbing, female bears need to be provided with an isolated, undisturbed den and a relatively small nesting box.
    • Cubbing dens measured in the wild are smaller than most dens provided for captive bears. Small, round or oval dens, just large enough for the female bear to lie down on her side, should be provided, with appropriate bedding and good sound insulation. (D265.4.w4, D265.6.w6, J23.18.w4)
  • For further information see: Rearing of Mammals - Parent rearing; Accommodation Design for Mammals - Housing Facilities

Lagomorph Consideration

Domestic rabbit
  • Domestic rabbits should always be provided with a secure area for sleeping. In hutch-kept rabbits, this is the fully enclosed part of the hutch. In house rabbits, it is the rabbit's own cage or kennel. (B625.w5)
  • A pregnant doe needs to be provided with an appropriate nest box and bedding material so she can satisfy her instincts for nest making. She also needs to be able to get away from the nest box, since rabbits practice "absentee parenting", remaining away from their young except for a few minutes for nursing them. (D360, J232.46.w1)
  • See: Rearing of Mammals (Mammal Husbandry and Management)
Wild lagomorphs
Ferret Consideration
  • A hiding/sleeping area is essential. (B602.1.w1, J29.6.w3)
    • Without this, the ferret will be anxious and stressed. (B602.1.w1)
  • Wild Mustela putorius - Polecats would normally have several dens in different locations, and it is preferable to provide multiple nesting boxes/sleeping areas for ferrets, both to give a choice of sleeping sites and to provide security. (P120.2007.w6)
    • In a multi-ferret household or enclosure, there should be at least one sleeping area/sleeping box per ferret. (B602.1.w1, B651.3.w3)
Bonobo Consideration

Multiple sleeping shelves at different heights. Bonobo enclosure with climbing structures and elevated nets for resting. Click here for full page view with caption

Bonobos generally make nests in trees (although nesting on the ground does occur to varying extents in different wild bonobo communities). They use day nests for resting in during the day, as well as night nests. Females share their nests with their offspring but encourage older infants to build their own nests, and start excluding such offspring. (B585.w8; J373.94.w1) 
  • Note: nests serve an important social function as a refuge for subordinate individuals during interactions with dominant individuals. It has been observed on several occasions that the dominant individual stopped pursuing once the subordinate had created and retreated into even the most rudimentary nest. (B585.w8; J373.94.w1) 

For further information on the structure and function of nests see: 

  • Nesting material should be available at all times.
  • Sufficient raised nesting places (e.g. platforms, hammocks) should be provided so that there is at least one nesting place for each bonobo of four years old or older.
  • Nesting platforms and hammocks should be placed at varying heights, allowing the occupants to arrange themselve in ways which avoid eye contact, if they wish to do so. (D427.5.2.w5b)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Requirements while in Temporary / Hospital Accommodation

Hospital, quarantine or other temporary accommodation is generally relatively small, designed for ease of cleaning and animal care, and has to be broadly suitable for a wide range of species.
  • Animals may be kept in such accommodation for a short time, for example while ill or following an operation, or, in the case of quarantine, for longer periods which may vary from one month to rabies quarantine of six months or even longer.
  • Hospital and quarantine enclosures usually are sterile and barren, which makes it easier to catch the animals, but may increase stress.
  • It is particularly important to provide enrichment for animals which are being held in small, simple enclosures.
  • Providing enrichment improves the ability of caretakers to assess the animal's health: health problems may be indicated by a reduction in activity levels (more easily seen if the environment promotes activity than if it anyway encourages the animal to be inactive). 
  • Where a group of animals is being held, enrichment provides alternative focus points for the animals' attention, which may reduce aggression directed at pen mates.

(P82.4.w1, N19.11.w1, N19.16.w1)

Accommodation design
  • Consider the normal preferences of the animal, as well as safety considerations and the need for observation.
    • If keeping mammals in cages during treatment, keep arboreal species in cages off the floor, but fossorial and terrestrial species near to ground level.
    • Provide perches, nest boxes etc. as soon as it is safe to do so (allowing for restrictions needed e.g. post-operatively).
    • Provide privacy e.g. by covering barred cage doors with a sheet, blanket, plywood or other suitable opaque material (depending on the species).
    • Ensure animals have an appropriate light-dark cycle.
Social requirements
  • Consideration must be given to the social needs of each species while in temporary accommodation, for example by providing a companion (if it is safe to do so, i.e. not if this may lead to a weak animal being attacked), or keeping social animals within sight, sound, or smell of conspecifics whenever possible.
  • Minimise time in hospital accommodation for those species where prolonged absence may lead to difficulties in reintroducing the individual to the group.
  • Keep predator and prey species apart as much as possible.
  • Provide enrichment for individuals which have to be kept alone while healing.
  • In quarantine, provision of one or more companions may be very important, particularly if a prolonged quarantine period is required for an individual of a social species.
    • It is important to recognise that bringing a resident into quarantine as a companion for the new individual puts that resident at risk if the new individual is carrying a disease.
    • Once a resident animal is introduced into quarantine as a companion e.g. for an animal in rabies quarantine, it is subject to the same quarantine conditions and must remain in quarantine until the end of the quarantine period.

(P20.1998.w9, V.w5, V.w6)

Environmental enrichment

Within the limits imposed on hospital and quarantine accommodation, it is possible to provide environmental enrichment, and this should be provided.

  • This is most important for healthy animals during e.g. quarantine, also for rehabilitated animals after initial treatment but before they are fit for release.
  • For animals held during healing, environmental enrichment may distract the animal from removing sutures or bandages. (N19.11.w1)
  • Providing enrichment may reduce stress and its associated disease problems. (N19.11.w1)
Various types of enrichment can be provided:
  • When practical, familiar toys and feeders should be taken with the animal to its hospital/quarantine accommodation.
  • Natural branches can be provided for all climbing species, and (in the case of e.g. rabies quarantine) disposed of after the animal has left the temporary accommodation.
  • A hook in the roof allows objects to be hung from a chain or rope. This may be a barrel for hoofstock to spar with or rub against, or branches for browsing.
  • Boxes, bags, balls, puzzle feeders and other toys can be provided as appropriate for the species.
  • Non-toxic potted plants can be placed in the enclosure, providing shade, opportunities for digging, etc.
  • Rubbing posts can be provided.
  • Browse can be provided for a wide range of species.
  • In larger holding areas, it may be possible to provide pools, mud wallows etc.
  • Varying substrates can be provided, e.g. straw, grasses, leaves, woodchips or soil.
  • Scent enrichment can be provided.
  • Note: Using a structured programme involving a variety of enrichment items may help compensate for restrictions imposed by the practicalities of a quarantine situation.
  • Enrichment used in quarantine should be recorded and the enrichment should be assessed.
  • Note:
    • In general, items used in quarantine need to be easy to clean and disinfect or sterilise, easy to use, and should not harbour parasites (which limits use of natural substrates); they should be inexpensive, easy to obtain and easy to use, and they must not be able to physically harm the animal or be psychologically detrimental to the animal. (N19.16.w1)
    • When it is important to ensure that enrichment is free of pathogens, objects which can be completely sterilised include PVC feeders, Boomer balls, feeder balls and rope toys.

(P82.4.w1, N19.11.w1, N19.16.w1)

Note: Objects provided for environmental enrichment should be easily cleaned, appropriate for the species, and should not have sharp edges. (B375.5.w5 [full text included])

During rehabilitation
  • For animals in temporary/hospital accommodation prior to release back to the wild, enclosures need to be designed with barriers and/or hiding areas which provide rescued animals with privacy (while allowing observation of health status and behaviour by carers) and minimise habituation of the animals. (B375.3.w3, B375.5.w5, D27, D28)
  • Enrichment should be provided for animals during rehabilitation. (B468.6.w6g, P62.17.w1) This includes:
    • Appropriate cage furnishings (e.g. branches, hammocks, suspended containers of appropriate sizes for the species etc.)
    • Nesting materials;
    • Food enrichment (e.g. scatter feeding, buried, in simple boxes or tubes, provision of whole foods, provision of livefood such as mealworms or crickets);
    • Scent enrichment (e.g. for predators, an object which has been left with prey species previously);
      • Do not place predator scents in with prey species, as this may cause excessive stress.
    • Toys (which can be scented for added interest).
    • Note:  It is very important to ensure all items used for enrichment are safe (without protruding screws, sharp edges, splinters etc.); that puzzle-solving or reaching foods will not be too difficult and cause excessive stress on the animal; and that care is taken in introducing "foreign" objects, which may be stressful to a wild animal. 

    (B468.6.w6g, P62.17.w1)

Bear Consideration

  • Enrichment items should be provided, such as trees, logs, climbing structures, water tubs/pools or streams, and toys such as balls and boxes. This helps to keep the bear's life interesting and prevent development of stereotypies. (D270.I.w1, D315.3.w3)
  • Food items should be scattered around the enclosure following cleaning, with a lag period of time before the bears are allowed back into the enclosure. The items should be distributed in a manner to encourage normal foraging behaviour and not be associated with a routine vessel such as a food bowl. Enrichment devices should also be employed as a means of food delivery. (V.w93)
  • Note: Ursus maritimus - Polar bears [and bears in general] are solitary rather than social species, therefore isolation while in hospital/quarantine accommodation is not likely to be a problem, except possibly for cubs just separated from their mother. Animals which have been kept together may remain together in quarantine, but with careful observation in case transport or the change in environment leads to aggression developing. (D315.3.w3)
During rehabilitation
  • Every effort should be made to avoid bears under rehabilitation care becoming accustomed to the presence of humans. Rehabilitation enclosures should be designed to minimize or eliminate physical, visual, auditory or olfactory contact between human caretakers and bears. (V.w93)

Lagomorph Consideration

Rabbit cage with newspaper and hay. Click here for full page view with caption Romerolagus diazi - Volcano rabbit in pen. Click here for full page view with caption

Domestic rabbit
  • Rabbits are prey animals and their accommodation should be chosen with this in mind, well away from the sight and sound of predators including cats, dogs, ferrets, birds of prey etc.

  • A quite place away from the sounds and scents of predators is particularly important for critically ill rabbits. (J213.1.w1)

  • Non-slip flooring is important.

  • Hay is a familiar bedding in which rabbits can burrow to feel secure.

  • For recumbent rabbits, synthetic fleece and incontinence pads are useful and give some protection against urinary and faecal soiling. (B601.3.w3)

  • If possible, have the owner bring a familiar toy, piece of clothing etc. to leave with the rabbit. (B601.3.w3)

  • When a rabbit is hospitalised, consider hospitalising the rabbit's companion rabbit as well (in the same cage) to reduce stress and encourage feeding. (B601.16.w16)

Wild lagomorphs
  • For wild lagomorphs, temporary accommodation should not only be away from the sight, sound and smell of predator animals but also be away from normal human activities.

  • As far as the accommodation allows, match the essential elements of the natural habitat of the species, in particular their need for cover, by providing e.g. hay to burrow into, an upturned box (with a hole in one side) to shelter under, and/or covering the front of the cage (if not solid anyway) with a visual barrier (e.g. a sheet or towel).
    • For example: for Romerolagus diazi - Volcano rabbit, quarantine accommodation used aluminium cages, each housing one rabbit, with a nest box 20 x 20 x 20 cm and a run 80 x 50 x 40 cm. The nest box was lined with cardboard (for insulation) and provided with shredded paper bedding. Initially the floors were mesh, for hygiene (allowing urine and faeces through). However, the rabbits were very nervous. Hay used to provide deep litter (rather than cleaning cages weekly) made a more secure environment. (J51.19.w1)
Ferret Consideration
  • A hiding/sleeping area is essential. (B602.1.w1, J29.6.w3)
    • Without this, the ferret will be anxious and stressed. (B602.1.w1)
Bonobo Consideration Bonobos are highly social. The design of quarantine areas should allow visual and auditory contact of each quarantined bonobo with the daytime holding area or exhibit area. (D386.App1.w6)
  • Every effort should be made to avoid isolating an individual bonobo from its group. If physical isolation is essential for medical reasons/safety of the individual or group, then the maximum possible contact (visual, olfactory, auditory) should be maintained. (D386.App1.w6)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of page

Special Requirements for Rescued Animals

Animals which have been rescued from inappropriate conditions may have special needs for enrichment. These must:
  • Take into account the poor physical condition and temporary and permanent disabilities of the animals.
  • Be readily and cheaply available, or be easily constructed using cheap, locally available materials.
  • Be easily used by the keepers.

Note: The same problems may apply for enrichment in other situations, but problems may be exacerbated in rescue situations where the animals may be in very poor condition on arrival, and where resources may be extremely limited.

Bear Consideration

  • Bears rescued from bear bile farms may have severe behavioural disturbances; pacing and weaving, self mutilation, hyper-responsiveness to external stimuli, fear, aggression, hyperphagia or anorexia, and polydipsia may be seen. During the early stages of treatment, while in rehabilitation cages, in addition to the initial medical and surgical management of their physical problems, these bears are given environmental enrichment including twice daily feeds, enrichment items (browse, logs or bamboo stuffed with nuts or dried fruit, flavoured ice blocks, toys and if the weather is warm and the bear enjoys it, showers). Bears with severe disturbance considered likely to threaten their health and safety, shown by behaviours such as self mutilation, uninterrupted stereotypic activity and anorexia, are also treated medically. After convalescence, the bears are integrated into groups, chosen on the basis of their physical parameters and their personalities, and continue to be managed intensively with behavioural and environmental enrichment, with individual bear training and behavioural modification schedules if required. Long periods of observation, combined with use of an ethogram which takes into account the behaviours of other bears in the group, helps to identify the source(s) of stress for each individual bear. (P83.1.w1)
  • Rescued Melursus ursinus - Sloth bears in India (former "dancing bears"), are kept in large, naturalistic enclosures. Trees have been planted to break up "lines of sight" and this has made the bears feel more secure and has helped reduce stress and aggression. Elevated wooden platforms provide an added dimension and climbing opportunities, allow the bears to rest at a height and view the surrounding area, and give somewhere for bears to escape from aggressive interactions. Straw or hay bedding material is used for by the bears for nesting. Water pools with boulders on the bottom are well used by the bears. Natural substrates are used for digging and logs are provided, from which the bears remove the bark. Feeding-based enrichments include scatter feeding on the natural substrates to encourage foraging, and honey logs hung up on ropes (inside is a bottle of honey, and narrow spouts allow the honey to trickle out down the log). (N20.13.w1)

Lagomorph Consideration

Domestic rabbit
With rescued rabbits, often their previous history is not known.
  • If the rabbit may have been kept in a small cage or hutch, and not developed strong bones or muscles, access to a larger area for increased exercise should be given gradually. (B620, B622.6.w6)
  • Offer water in both a bowl and a bottle initially, if it is not known which it has been used to, since it may not use an unfamiliar water source. (B539.1.w1)
  • Remember that the rabbit may not be used to being handled and may bite out of fear.
  • Give the rabbit a secure place to hide, and time to get used to its surroundings and associated noises, smells etc.
  • Provide plenty of hay: this is likely to smell familiar, and ensures the rabbit has plenty of fibre in its diet to help reduce possible digestive problems at a stressful time.
  • Quiet, soothing music may be beneficial. (W731.Jan01.w1)
  • Clicker-training rabbits in rescue shelters to come to the front of their cage and interact with potential adopters may make them more easily adoptable. (N34.Summer07.w3)

(B539.1.w1, B620, B622.6.w6, V.w5, V.w44, W731.Jan01.w1)

Ferret Consideration
  • Make sure the ferret has a hiding place such as a nest box into which it can retreat. (V.w5)
  • Be particularly careful to talk to the ferret while approaching, and to handle it smoothly, without any jerky motions which might frighten it; remember the ferret might not be used to being handled. (V.w5)
  • Provide both a bowl and a bottle for drinking, since it might not recognise a bottle if it has not used one before. (V.w5)
  • It may be necessary to offer several types of food - dry pelleted food, minced meat, prey items (piece of rabbit, whole mouse) if its previous diet is unknown.(V.w5)
    • Breaking a raw egg over dry food can be useful to encourage a ferret to eat the dry food if it has never been fed this before. (V.w44)
Bonobo Consideration
  • Rescued bonobos are infants which have been taken when their mothers were killed e.g. for bushmeat. When they arrive at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, in addition to their physical needs, they need security; this is provided by human caretakers. (W758.Aug2011.w1)

Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

Return to top of  page

Authors & Referees


Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)


John Huckabee (V.w93); Chris Lasher (V.w110); Emma Magnus BSc(Hons) MSc CCAB (V.w139); Dr Anne McBride (V.w141)

Return to top of page