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The challenge of challenge: can problem solving opportunities enhance animal welfare?

The challenge of challenge: can problem solving opportunities enhance animal welfare?

Applied Animal Behaviour Science 102(3/4): 246-261

Cognitive mechanisms are an important part of the organization of the behavior systems of animals. In the wild, animals regularly face problems that they must overcome in order to survive and thrive. Solving such problems often requires animals to process, store, retrieve, and act upon information from the environment-in other words, to use their cognitive skills. For example, animals may have to use navigational, tool-making or cooperative social skills in order to procure their food. However, many enrichment programs for captive animals do not include the integration of these types of cognitive challenges. Thus, foraging enrichments typically are designed to facilitate the physical expression of feeding behaviors such as food-searching and food consumption, but not to facilitate complex problem solving behaviors related to food acquisition. Challenging animals by presenting them with problems is almost certainly a source of frustration and stress. However, we suggest here that this is an important, and even necessary, feature of an enrichment program, as long as animals also possess the skills and resources to effectively solve the problems with which they are presented. We discuss this with reference to theories about the emotional consequences of coping with challenge, the association between lack of challenge and the development of abnormal behavior, and the benefits of stress (arousal) in facilitating learning and memory of relevant skills. Much remains to be done to provide empirical support for these theories. However, they do point the way to a practical approach to improving animal welfare-to design enrichments to facilitate the cognitive mechanisms which underlie the performance of complex behaviors that cannot be performed due to the restrictions inherent to the captive environment.

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Accession: 012932108

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DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2006.05.031

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