Improving Captive Animal Welfare through Cognition-Related Research
Submitting InstitutionCanterbury Christ Church University
Unit of AssessmentAgriculture, Veterinary and Food Science
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Biological Sciences: Ecology
Summary of the impact
Research undertaken at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) studied
habitat enrichment in captive coyotes (with the National Wildlife Research
Center in Utah), and herd composition of donkeys, horses and mules (with
the Donkey Sanctuary). These studies observed social and environmental
interactions, addressing important welfare indicators in gregarious
species. The work identified welfare issues in both sites and provided the
necessary evidence to allow improvements to be made.
Specifically, this research has:
1) led to changes in the husbandry practice and policy in both partner
institutions that have improved animal welfare;
2) improved how the Donkey Sanctuary trains international partners and
undertakes welfare education.
Please note that numbered citations refer to outputs in section 3.
The Animal Welfare Act (2006) protects `any animal that is not living in
a wild state' by prescribing the duty of care, including the need to
exhibit normal behaviour patterns and to be free from suffering. It is
therefore vital to correctly define, and understand, both normal and
abnormal behaviour patterns and the factors that influence these.
In research initiated in 2006, Dr Osthaus (employed CCCU 2007 -
present) has worked with a variety of partners to use cognitive and
behavioural approaches to identify and assess animal welfare and stress.
The specific impact claimed here relates to work conducted in
collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife
Services National Wildlife Research Center's Predator Research Facility in
Millville, Utah, and with the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon. Both
studies were requested by the host facilities to enhance their knowledge
of animal welfare in relation to habitat enrichment and group dynamics.
Data were collected by Dr Osthaus in both partner organisations
in the summer of 2006. Dr Osthaus was then, in 2007, appointed to
a position at CCCU. After taking up this position, data from the studies
were analysed, written-up and published in international, peer-reviewed
journals [1,2]. The analysis and interpretation of the Millville coyote
study  took place in 2008 and 2009, and that for the Donkey Sanctuary
equid study took place in 2010 and 2011. Dr Osthaus was therefore
employed at CCCU while undertaking the analysis and interpretation of both
data sets, from which the impact is derived.
The results of the Millville coyote study  showed that, at the large
scale, captive coyotes act exactly like coyotes in the field. This allowed
previous criticism that captive animals were not good models for animals
in the wild to be dismissed. Now, solid and reliable inferences can be
made that allow research to inform conservation (allowing a greater
applicability of all such research at Millville). At the small scale,
however, analysis revealed differences in behaviour between captive and
wild animals. Specifically, the research identified stress-linked
behaviours in the captive coyotes that were subsequently addressed by
The Donkey Sanctuary equid study  represented the first analysis of
social relationships in mixed herds of domestic equids, with the key
results published in 2012 . This analysis of interactions between and
within species demonstrated that the animals preferred to associate with
individuals of the same equid type . Hence this work demonstrated that
donkeys should be provided with another donkey as a companion and that
mules are best kept with other mules. This finding resulted in changes to
the educational and husbandry activities of the Donkey Sanctuary and to
For both of these studies, in line with the unit of assessment's strategy
for impact, stakeholders were involved in the work from the outset and,
for both of the studies reported here, they have been recognised as
co-authors on the resulting publications.
References to the research
The impact claimed here specifically derives from the following
research and publications:
1) Shivik, J.A., Palmer, G.L., Gese, E.M. and Osthaus, B. (2009)
Behavioural budgets of captive versus wild coyotes: does environmental
enrichment help? Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 12,
223-235. doi: 10.1080/10888700902955989 (Output listed in REF2.)
This work is published in high quality peer-reviewed journals and has
been cited within the academic, peer-reviewed, literature.
References to related work within the group:
3) Proops, L., Burden, F. and Osthaus, B. (2009) Mule cognition:
a case of hybrid vigour? Animal Cognition 12, 75-84. doi:
10.1007/s10071-008-0172-1. (Output listed in REF2.)
4) Osthaus, B., Burden, F., Hocking, I. and Proops, L. (2013)
Spatial perseveration by horses, donkeys and mules in a simple detour
task. Animal Cognition 16, 301-305. doi:
10.1007/s10071-012-0589-4. (Output listed in REF2.)
These papers report fundamental research into cognition. Such work is
central to linking variation in cognition to welfare and hence to the
design of appropriate husbandry, training and enrichment strategies.
Details of the impact
Please note that lettered citations refer to evidence sources in section
5 and that numbered citations refer to outputs in section 3.
Research has directly resulted in changes in husbandry practices of both
stakeholders [A,B]. It has also contributed to the body of peer-reviewed
research on the specific behaviours of coyotes , and of donkeys, mules
and horses [2-4]. Due to the fact that the research was requested by, and
developed with, the partner institutions, decision makers were willing and
able to implement changes and improvements as an outcome of our research.
As a result, changes have been made by both organisations that have
improved the welfare of the animals in their care and altered associated
policy [A,B]. Results have also altered educational material, specifically
with regard to the work of the Donkey Sanctuary [B].
The work on coyotes at the United States Department of Agriculture
Wildlife Services National Wildlife Research Center's Predator Research
Facility in Millville, Utah , has become extremely important relative
to animal husbandry at the facility [A]. The research has resulted in an
extensive environmental enrichment program that has been incorporated into
animal care standards at the site [A]. The work also dismissed previous
criticism that captive animals were not good models for animals in the
wild, allowing research at Millville to be more widely and easily applied.
Therefore, significant improvements in both scientific integrity and
animal care were made as a consequence of the research.
The work in conjunction with the Donkey Sanctuary [2-4] has allowed them
to more easily demonstrate the need for donkeys not to be kept as
companions to horses or ponies [B], which is a very common practice. This
message is now reiterated at training courses and behavioural talks that
the Donkey Sanctuary gives around the world [B]. It is also shared with
the Donkey Sanctuary's centres in seven other European countries and their
partners in Asia, Africa and South America [B]. The work has also been
important in informing discussion about whether the Donkey Sanctuary
should take ponies or horses and if they should stay long term or if
another equine charity should be asked to assist [B].
The research with the Donkey Sanctuary has therefore had the following
specific impacts [B]:
- The establishment of species-specific groups on specialist farms, and
increased observation of bonded companions in the first few weeks of
- Changes to fostering rules to only allow mules to go out as companions
for ponies or other mules.
- Changes to policy on the education of owners relinquishing mixed pairs
or groups, dealing with an issue where previously owners had been upset
when they find their donkey-pony pair have been separated once in the
- Changes to international training and educational work.
In summary, research from within the `Animal Cognition and Welfare' group
of the Ecology Research Group at CCCU has changed the husbandry and animal
welfare policies of two partner institutions, one a research centre in the
USA, the other an international charity. As a result, the welfare of a
large number of animals has been improved [A,B] and training courses and
behavioural talks given by the Donkey Sanctuary around the world have
changed [B]. More generally this research has improved the understanding,
by carers, of the behavioural and social processes of their animals.
Sources to corroborate the impact
A) The impact at the National Wildlife Research Center's Predator
Research Facility in Millville, Utah can be corroborated by the Center.(Contact
B) The impact on policy and welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary can be
corroborated by the Head of the Sanctuary's Policy and Development
Department. (Contact ID.2)