AboutZoos, Since 2008


Cap­tive hye­nas out­fox wild relatives

pub­lished 07 Jan­u­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 07 Jan­u­ary 2013
Hyena-puzzlefeederWhen it comes to solv­ing puz­zles, ani­mals in cap­tiv­ity are, well, dif­fer­ent ani­mals than their wild brethren.

Test­ing ani­mals’ abil­ity to solve new prob­lems has been his­tor­i­cally con­ducted on ani­mals in cap­tiv­ity. Only recently has a shift been made to run these tests on ani­mals in their nat­ural habi­tat. In a study appear­ing in Ani­mal Behav­iour (avail­able online since Decem­ber 6), how­ever, researchers at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity (MSU) found vast dif­fer­ences in the prob­lem solv­ing skills between cap­tive and wild spot­ted hye­nas.

Apply­ing lessons learnt from cap­tive ani­mals is poten­tially prob­lem­atic because they may not accu­rately por­tray how wild ani­mals respond to novel chal­lenges, said Sarah Benson-​Amram, for­mer MSU zool­ogy grad­u­ate stu­dent and the study’s lead author.

We have to be care­ful when inter­pret­ing results from cap­tive ani­mals, as there may be extreme dif­fer­ences between how ani­mals behave in cap­tiv­ity and in the wild. An ani­mal that is suc­cess­ful at solv­ing prob­lems in the com­fort of its cage may be unwill­ing to engage in sim­i­lar problem-​solving behav­iour in the wild.
(Sarah Benson-​Amram, research fel­low, the Uni­ver­sity of St. Andrews — Scot­land)

Benson-​Amram pre­sented wild and cap­tive spot­ted hye­nas with the same novel prob­lem — a steel puz­zle box con­tain­ing meat. Cap­tive hye­nas were sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter at open­ing their boxed meals than their wild coun­ter­parts. The encaged mam­mals also were less afraid of the man­made puz­zle, and they also were more cre­ative, try­ing a vari­ety of solu­tions.

See the dif­fer­ent approaches and solu­tions for the prob­lem between a cap­tive and a wild hyena in this video:

It doesn’t appear that these dif­fer­ences result from cap­tive hye­nas hav­ing more time or energy,” Benson-​Amram said. “We con­clude they were more suc­cess­ful because they were more will­ing to tackle the prob­lem and were more exploratory.”

Benson-​Amram teamed up with Kay Holekamp, MSU zool­o­gist and co-​principal inves­ti­ga­tor at the BEA­CON Cen­ter for the Study of Evo­lu­tion in Action, and Mary Weldele with the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Berke­ley. The research was funded in part by the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­sity. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: MSU|Today news, 07.01.2013)
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