Development of an Evidence-Based Welfare Approach for Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) in Human Care

Research Poster
Brittany Fischer
Kelly George
Department of Animal Sciences

Animal welfare science is an expanding field in zoological institutions throughout the United States and the world. In 2017 the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) established a new accreditation standard requiring member organizations to have a formal animal welfare assessment process. As a result, the Animal Programs Department at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium sought partnership with the Center for Human-Animal Interactions Research & Education (CHAIRE) to develop an assessment for the animals in their department using a focal species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). A multi-faceted approach was developed using the Five Domains Model as a framework for one-year, divided into six 60d periods, to measure the welfare of the cheetahs and determine influential factors. Species and individual histories including nutritional, environmental, and medical information, were acquired and combined with behavior observations and a non-invasive measure of hair cortisol production. Behavior outputs were recorded using scan sampling for a total of six observations per period. One hair sample was collected at the beginning of each period. Participation in a cheetah run activity (P=<0.01), housing (P=0.01), and period (P=<0.01) were found to influence behavior. Stereotypic behavior was positively correlated within individual cheetahs throughout our study (P=<0.01). No difference of hair cortisol was found for the population, but further analysis resulted in differences within individuals (P=0.01). Assessment using the Five Domains Model is necessary for a holistic view of welfare. This study demonstrates a foundation for welfare assessments of cheetahs as well as other species within zoological institutions in the future.