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Using environmental enrichment to reduce the expression of abnormal behaviours in Greater rhea Rhea americana at Belo Horizonte Zoo


Corresponding author: Cristiano Schetini de Azevedo. Tel: (55) 31-3409-2914. Fax: (55) 31-3344-4176. E-mail:


Animals kept by zoos may express abnormal behaviours that are indicators of poor welfare. Environmental enrichment is a technique of providing items to animals that stimulate the expression of normal behaviours. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of providing simple environmental enrichment in the reduction of the expression of abnormal behaviour in captive-born Greater rhea Rhea americana at Belo Horizonte Zoo, south-eastern Brazil. As enrichment, fruit and vegetables were scatter fed to a group of seven birds from April to September 2009, and the behaviour of the birds was recorded using scan sampling with instantaneous recording of behaviour every 1 minute for 1 hour daily (90 hours of observation). The study was divided into three phases: baseline, enrichment and post-enrichment. The abnormal behaviours ‘pacing’, ‘eating faeces’ and ‘escaping behaviour’ reduced during the enrichment phase, but only the first two behaviours differed significantly between the phases; ‘walking’ and ‘foraging’, both positive behaviours, increased during the enrichment phase. These results showed that the implementation of simple environmental enrichment can stimulate the Greater rhea to exhibit more natural behaviours and improve their welfare.