Affects of Enrichment and Pacing in Zoo Bears

By: Lora Beth Allen

Lori-Beth’s presentation on Sun Bears in the Atlanta zoo was an oral presentation given at the SparC presentations Tuesday to showcase a correlative study. She conducted a study to test the correlation between the pacing habits of Atlanta zoo Sun Bears and the presence of enrichments in their habitats. This study was an interesting one to take up, and one that mirrored my experience interning with the Georgia Aquarium.

In my time at the Georgia aquarium, I learned a great deal about aquatic animals, endangered species, animals’ habitats, and the use of enrichments to help stimulate the animals. Lori-Beth defines enrichments as devices used to simulate the natural habitat of the animal provided by the institution to encourage natural behaviors and instincts in the animals. At the GA Aquarium, for example, in the otter habitat this may look like bits of shrimp trapped in a toy designed to be cracked open in order to obtain. For the otters to eat lunch, they are given the task of obtaining their food as they would in the wild: by cracking open clams with rocks, belly up, as they float in the water and use their tummies as tables. In the Atlanta zoo, the enrichments for Sun bears employ similar strategies that mold the animal into engaging in instinctual behaviors for food, play, and interaction with other bears.

This established definition gave clarity to Lori-Beth’s dependent and independent variables in her testing: Independent- enrichment exposure, dependent-the pacing of the bears in their habitat. After explaining her variables, it was clear that this study was correlative, as she hypothesized that the use of enrichments would increase the pacing of the bears in their habitats. In her experimentation, she considered several other variables in her observations and recordings. Observationally, she took note of the time of day, the crowd size present at that time, and the presence of enrichments. In her recordings, she noted how those factors affected the Sun Bear’s pacing and the effectual behaviors of the bears. Here, I learned that Sun bears are naturally individualistic animals, though they can associate in groups and show high sociability at times.

She observed two different bears, and found a negatively correlated result in enrichment exposure and pacing. She found, contrary to her hypothesis, that the bears actually engaged in less pacing with the presence of enrichments. My understanding of these results was broadened by the explanation that these bears are generally solitary. This explained why her results showed higher activity earlier in the day with lesser crowds, and less interaction later in the day with growing crowds as the bears tended to hide away.

Through this research and its eloquent presentation, I did learn more about how correlative studies work and their usefulness. Though her hypothesis was disproved, Lori-Beth remained hopeful for further research into the matter and noted that the number of variables she observed may have skewed her results. Having so many factors affect her independent variable meant that the results of her dependent variable my not have manifested in expected ways. This, however, does not inhibit the usefulness of this data and the possible future outcomes of it. Through this, Lori-Beth intends to observe more of the Sun Bears, and possibly increase her sample size and the duration of her experimentation to give a fuller analysis. She also intends to look into the standards of zoos, as that is always a concern with researchers about practices of safety and comfort for the animals. And as a fun note, though these bears are typically solitary they show high rates of compatibility in the Atlanta zoo! This research stretched me outside of my English major comfort zones, but reaffirmed a lot of what I have learned in statistics as well as introductory psychology.

Research well done and well presented!