International Society For Endangered Cats

A Voice For The Wild Cats of the World

Oncilla Enrichment in Brazil

Oncillas (Leopardus tigrinus) are small cats found in the forests of South America. Weighing between 1.75 and 3.5 kg, the species is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN and little is known about their behaviour in the wild. In the past, most zoos have had poor success in breeding Oncillas.

Oncilla at SOSCare ©Peter Cromer

At the Reproduction Centre for Small Felids in the Rio de Janiero Zoo, researchers are trying to find ways to help the cats engage in more naturalistic behaviours through the use of environmental enrichment. The hope is that encouraging natural behaviours will help the cats behave in a more natural way and improve reproductive success.

In this study, researchers used two different scents in the cats’ enclosures and then recorded the cats’ behaviour. Their  behaviour was recorded using cameras, allowing researchers to take data around the clock instead of just during normal working hours when researchers were present.

Data were collected over a period of two months on eight individual cats. Each animal was observed for 360 hours. Baseline data were collected over a period of three consecutive days. After the three days, 1 g. of dried cinnamon was put into the cats’ enclosures among alfalfa and wood chips. The 1 g. of cinnamon was put in once a day for three days. During the subsequent three days, post-enrichment data were taken to analyze the effects of the cinnamon after it was no longer being placed in the enclosure.

At this point in the experiment, the researchers waited 30 days to allow the cinnamon to completely clear away. Then the next phase of the experiment began with researchers placing 1 g. of dried catnip in each of the cats’ enclosures, and following the procedure as listed above with the cinnamon.

After analyzing the data, it was discovered that there was a significant difference in pacing behaviour before, during, and after the introduction of the cinnamon. Cats paced less once cinnamon was introduced and for three days thereafter. This suggests that the benefit of this enrichment is prolonged. Researchers found no significant difference in pacing behaviour before, during, or after the addition of catnip to the enclosures. The authors were surprised by this finding but suggested it could be due to individual animals’ preferences or the way in which the catnip was presented.

Having used pacing as a measure of animal welfare in this study, the researchers conclude that olfactory enrichment can positively affect animal welfare as it decreases pacing behaviour.

This study is extremely useful for keepers of all felids as it provides good data that suggest inexpensive olfactory enrichment can improve animal welfare.

Animal Keeper Forum (January 2012; Vol. 39, No. 1):  de Resende, Leticia S., Karla C. Pedretti Gomes, Artur Andriolo, Gelson Genaro, Gabriella l. Remy and Valdir de Almeida Ramos Jr. (2011): Influence of Cinnamon and Catnip on the Stereotypical Pacing of Oncilla Cats (Leopardus tigrinus) in Captivity.  Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 14(3): 247-254.

One response to “Oncilla Enrichment in Brazil

  1. juba January 13, 2012 at 11:44 am

    why do they have to leave this world! 😦

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