Curious creatures: a multi-taxa investigation of responses to novelty in a zoo environment

Belinda A. Hall, Vicky Melfi, Alicia Burns, David M. McGill, Rebecca E. Doyle

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The personality trait of curiosity has been shown to increase welfare in humans. If this positive welfare effect is also true for non-humans, animals with high levels of curiosity may be able to cope better with stressful situations than their conspecifics. Before discoveries can be made regarding the effect of curiosity on an animal’s ability to cope in their environment, a way of measuring curiosity across species in different environments must be created to standardise testing. To determine the suitability of novel objects in testing curiosity, species from different evolutionary backgrounds with sufficient sample sizes were chosen. Barbary sheep ( Ammotragus lervia) n  = 12, little penguins ( Eudyptula minor) n  = 10, ringtail lemurs ( Lemur catta) n  = 8 , red tailed black cockatoos ( Calyptorhynchus banksia) n  = 7, Indian star tortoises ( Geochelone elegans) n  = 5 and red kangaroos ( Macropus rufus) n  = 5 were presented with a stationary object, a moving object and a mirror. Having objects with different characteristics increased the likelihood individuals would find at least one motivating. Conspecifics were all assessed simultaneously for time to first orientate towards object (s), latency to make contact (s), frequency of interactions, and total duration of interaction (s). Differences in curiosity were recorded in four of the six species; the Barbary sheep and red tailed black cockatoos did not interact with the novel objects suggesting either a low level of curiosity or that the objects were not motivating for these animals. Variation in curiosity was seen between and within species in terms of which objects they interacted with and how long they spent with the objects. This was determined by the speed in which they interacted, and the duration of interest. By using the measure of curiosity towards novel objects with varying characteristics across a range of zoo species, we can see evidence of evolutionary, husbandry and individual influences on their response. Further work to obtain data on multiple captive populations of a single species using a standardised method could uncover factors that nurture the development of curiosity. In doing so, it would be possible to isolate and modify sub-optimal husbandry practices to improve welfare in the zoo environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4454
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


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