Action: Carnivores: Provide live vertebrate prey
Key messagesRead our guidance on Key messages before continuing
- One before-and-after study in the USA found that hunting behaviour increased and sleeping decreased when a fishing cat was provided with live fish.
- One replicated, before-and-after study in the USA found that there was no change in the occurrence of stereotypical behaviours in tigers when provided with live fish.
In the wild, carnivores hunt both terrestrial and aquatic vertebrate prey. In captivity, carnivores are provided with meat or carcasses and are not able to practice their natural hunting behaviours. Providing captive carnivores with the opportunity to hunt is possible although in some countries there are regulations against feeding live vertebrate prey.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A small before-and-after study in 1991 of a fishing cat Felis viverrina in an off-exhibit zoo enclosure in the USA found that when provisioned with live fish, sleeping behaviour decreased and hunting behaviour increased compared to behaviour before the provision of live fish. Sleeping behaviour decreased (21%) and hunting behaviour increased (39%) when provisioned with live fish compared to before live fish were provided (sleeping: 67%, hunting: 0%). One fishing cat was observed for six non-consecutive days before the treatment followed by six non-consecutive days where one or two live fish were placed in pools in the enclosure. A second baseline period of six days followed this. The cat was fed its regular diet of processed meat daily between 08:30 h and 09:30 h. Observations began 30 minutes after the fishing cat re-entered the enclosure after the fish were released into the pools. Instantaneous focal sampling at 30 second intervals for 30 minute periods were recorded twice daily over a period of two months.
A small replicated, before-and-after study in 2003 of Sumatran tigers Panthera tigris sumatrae in a zoo in the USA found that when presented with live fish, there were no significant differences in the frequency of stereotypical behaviours compared to days without live fish. Two tigers were fed a commercial feline diet six days a week and were not fed on the seventh day, instead they received a horse leg bone. There were four conditions, each lasting four weeks: 1) baseline, 2) bones were supplied twice per week, 3) live fish were placed inside shallow water pools twice per week, and 4) post-manipulation baseline. Each tiger was observed for nine one-hour sessions in each condition using instantaneous scan sampling at one-minute intervals.
- Shepherdson D.J., Carlstead K., Mellen J.D. & Seidensticker J. (1993) The influence of food presentation on the behavior of small cats in confined environments. Zoo Biology, 12, 203-216
- Bashaw M.J., Bloomsmith M.A., Marr M.J. & Maple T.L. (2003) To hunt or not to hunt? A feeding enrichment experiment with captive large felids. Zoo Biology, 22, 189-198