Should zoo foods be coati chopped
Keywords:diet, food presentation, feeding behaviour, procyonid, Nasua nasua
The process of chopping feeds for zoo animals is common to many zoos, but few studies have evaluated the benefits of this presentation. While the perceived benefits of chopped diets include reduced food aggression, it is acknowledged that chopping feeds is time consuming for keepers and increases the risk of contamination. Given the potential disadvantages of chopped diets, there is a need to evaluate food presentation in a range of zoo-housed species. To investigate the effects on behaviour and sociality, meals were provided as either chopped or whole for a group of ring-tailed coatis (Nasua nasua) housed at Beale Wildlife Park. Effects of food presentation change were monitored, with particular attention to aggression, allo-grooming, food manipulation and activity levels. Surprisingly, analysis revealed a significant decrease in aggression, (p = 0.046), and a significant increase in food manipulation behaviours (p < 0.001) when unchopped foods were given. Levels of inactivity were not significantly changed by the new food presentation technique (p = 0.793). A positive correlation was also identified between bouts of aggression and allo-grooming (p < 0.001). These results suggest that chopped food may not provide all the behavioural benefits originally believed, and whole food diets may in fact provide coatis with greater opportunities to express natural food manipulation behaviours. Whole food may also decrease aggression levels normally observed during mealtimes. Chopped food studies are to be encouraged for more zoo taxa to evaluate feed presentation.