By Caroline Marques Maia and Eliana Ferraz Santos, Laboratory of Physiology and Behavior, São Paulo State University; Bosque dos Jequitibás Zoo; São Paulo, Brazil
Coatis Bosque dos Jequitibás zoo in Campinas and Municipal Ecological Park Armando Muller in Paulínia have each housed three coatis (Nasua nasua): three related females (mother, daughter, and niece) in Campinas that were born there, and two females and one castrated male in Paulínia, which came from the non-governmental organization Associação Mata Ciliar, in Jundiaí, Brazil. In Campinas, the enclosure was larger (200 m²) and not fenced (Figure 1, below right). The substrate was dirt and the coatis were fed only once a day in the morning. On the other hand, in Paulínia, the enclosure was smaller (64 m2), surrounded and covered by wire mesh, and the soil was covered by vegetation (Figure 2, below left). Moreover, the animals were fed in the morning and also in the evening.
Although the most frequent behaviors of these coatis in both zoos were sleeping and moving on the ground (21% and 33% in Campinas and 47% and 22% in Paulínia, respectively), the coatis of Paulínia Zoo slept significantly more than in Campinas Zoo (Goodman’s proportion test, P<0.05). Moreover, a female in Campinas Zoo exhibited pacing, while the male in Paulínia Zoo exhibited excessive territory marking, both considered stereotypic behaviors. Thus, we tested whether enrichment could improve the conditions of these coatis, especially in Paulínia Zoo.
We recorded the behaviors of the coatis before and during the implementation of the enrichment, using the scan sampling technique at fixed intervals of 10 min, thus obtaining the frequency of the behaviors for the coatis’ group in each zoo. We recorded the following behaviors: feed; move on the ground; move on the trunks/fence; remain stationary on the ground; remain stationary on the trunks/fence; interaction with other coatis or objects; dig; grooming/scratching; sleep; or stay out of view (in shelters or in chambers). The enrichment was always applied in the morning.
The enrichment offered were live insect larvae (tenebrio); fresh strawberries; frozen fruit; ox heart; basil branches; ox leather in the shape of a bone (purchased at pet shop); toy made of PVC pipe with small holes and containing basil; long ropes of sisal with pine cones tied at the end; curtains made of sisal ropes; two attractive scents (Canine Call and Pro’s Choice); and sandbox with earthworms and millipedes. These last two enrichments were not used in Paulínia, as they were not allowed by the zoo institution or were difficult to transport. The behavioral data were compared between periods with and without the enrichment for each zoo, and also between the zoos by Goodman’s proportion test (P<0.05 for statistical significance).
There was no significant effect of the enrichment on the proportional frequencies of the behaviors previously observed within each zoo (Goodman’s proportion test, P>0.05). However, the animals interacted with the enrichment in different ways, depending on the zoo, and some new behaviors appeared with the implementation of some specific items. The initial enrichment with tenebrio larvae did not attract the coatis of Campinas Zoo. Instead, these larvae were then offered freely on the ground in the enclosure, leading these coatis to consume them and dig in places where some of the larvae had been buried. In Paulínia Zoo, the coatis rubbed the flour culture the larvae were in on themselves, but few of the larvae were consumed. The pieces of ox heart were eaten only in Campinas Zoo, and just a few strawberries were consumed in both zoos. Regarding frozen fruit enrichment, when the ice melted, papaya and banana were consumed in Campinas. In Paulínia, few fruits were consumed, but the coatis scraped their nails in the ice and the male rubbed in the melted water and ice. All earthworms and millipedes were consumed in the morning in Campinas Zoo, but not in Paulínia.
Coatis from both zoos interacted with the sisal curtain, the hanging pinecones, and PVC pipe with basil. In Paulínia, the curtain was tied to the ceiling fence of the enclosure, so the coatis were able to hang on it and move around on it, a behavior not previously observed. In Campinas Zoo, just one female kept one ox leather bone, gnawing it periodically, while in Paulínia Zoo all the ox leather bones were gnawed throughout the day. In addition, coatis rubbed the earth moistened with scents and the basil on their bodies. In both zoos, these last two enrichments resulted in behaviors not previously observed: marking while sitting and salivation in excess.
When comparing the data between the zoos, the significant difference initially observed in relation to the sleeping behavior disappeared with the enrichment (Goodman’s proportion test, P>0.05).
The fact that Campinas’ coatis received food just once a day in the morning may explain why the food enrichment was better used than in Paulínia Zoo. Although the enrichment did not affect the frequency of any behavior observed before their implementation, some of them resulted in new behaviors, thus increasing the behavioral repertoire. These results demonstrate that the sisal curtain positioned in a way that enables the animals to hang on it, as well as enrichments involving scents and basil may be successful for captive coatis. Because Paulínia’s coatis initially slept significantly more than in Campinas Zoo, a difference eliminated by the enrichment, the conditions of the coatis in Paulínia was probably more affected and improved after the implementation of the enrichment. However, as stereotyped behaviors were not affected in either of the zoos, more specific enrichment should be tried to eliminate or at least reduce the frequency of these behaviors.
Photo credits: top left, Edu Fortes; bottom left, Daniele Victoratti do Carmo; right top and bottom, Julia Talazzo de Campos