Behavioural research

Source: C. Litchfield, Psychology Dept. Univ. of Adelaide, Desining, carrying out and assessing the effectiviness of behavioural enrichment
Behavioural research is conducted to get a better understanding of animals and their natural behaviour, for example to find out more about the difference in behaviour between animals living in captivity and those that live in the wild.
It may also be used to measure the effectiveness of improving the animalsÂ’ surrounding.
Behavioural research means observing animals. Not only are they watched closely, their actions are also documented.

David Shepherdson was hired in the London Zoo during the end of the 80s to develop the science of improving surroundings. He has, among other things, set up a step-by-step plan with points of interest concerning the conduction of behavioural research.

  • Determining the research target;

  • Start with determining your research target. For example, if you wish to compare the behaviour of zoo animals with those in the wild, measure the same conduct on the same points in time and under similar circumstances.

  • Determining the research population;

  • To obtain significant results, the research population has to be large enough. The group may consist of a few animals but also an entire group or even a number of different species.

  • Collecting information;

  • Preparatory observations and other information sources are necessary to determine a hypothesis or question. These may be literary sources but also information coming from zookeepers or vets. This is important for your method of research. By knowing beforehand how an animal behaves, you can determine which research method is most suitable.

  • Drawing up an ethogram;

  • As a result of the preparatory information, all the conduct that an animal conducts is recorded in an ethogram. Each conduct receives a separate code.

  • Assigning observation period;

  • For an indication of the conduct during the entire day, the day can be divided in time periods. Determine the duration of a period in advance. Periods must have a minimum duration of 30 minutes to limit the risk of coincidence as much as possible. Determine also the number of observations as well as the duration of the entire behaviour research. For this also applies: the more observation periods, the longer the total duration of the research will be and the more reliable the results will be.

  • Determining research method;

  • Determine everything with regard to the research in advance. Will you observe one animal at random or the entire group? Will you observe one specific type of conduct or all behaviour? Will you observe 24 hours a day or periods of time?

  • Determine the registration tools;

  • For the observation, a device is required that indicates the time and gives a signal within a certain interval which is not to be noted by those that are being observed. Other tools include: instruments to record observations, for example, pen and paper, a computer, a video camera and a tape recorder.

    The observations can only be started when it is clear how the research is to be conducted. The only thing left to do then is interpreting the data and writing a report.