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Effects of Increasingly Complex Enrichment on the Behavior of Captive Malayan Sun Bears (Helarctos malayanus)
All zoos grapple with challenges of keeping captive animals engaged in natural behaviors, especially for bears which prove to be among the more challenging species to keep stimulated. In captivity, a common indicator of poor welfare is the presence of stereotypic behaviors. In this study, we test whether providing increasingly complex feeding enrichment decreases the duration of stereotypic behavior and increases enrichment interaction for three adult female sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) at Oakland Zoo in California. We compared the effects of two different feeding enrichment devices- presented to the bears at three complexity levels- on sun bear stereotypic behavior. After three weeks of baseline data collection when no complex enrichment was present, we introduced the complex enrichment three times a week per level over six weeks. In addition, we measured each bear’s interaction with the enrichment devices to examine the effect of complexity on enrichment use. Providing increasingly complex enrichment decreased the duration of stereotypic behavior when compared to the baseline phase. Across the six weeks, the duration of stereotypic behavior was significantly less on the complex enrichment days compared to the days when complex enrichment was absent. Increasing enrichment complexity had variable effects on enrichment use. Our results indicate that providing complex enrichment decreased the duration of stereotypic behaviors, however, the effects of complex enrichment did not carry over on the days when the enrichment was no longer present. These results suggest that providing increasingly complex enrichment may have a positive influence on the behavior of captive bears.