Behavioral Effects of Environment Enrichment in Captive Margays (Leopardus wiedii) and Tigrinas (Leopardus tigrinus)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2000
Cleide L. S. Oliveira1, BS; Maria L. F. Gomes2, BS; Julia Aikawa1, BS; Graziella M. Silva2, BS; Luiz R. Francisco2, BS; Rosana N. Morais1, DVM, PhD
1Department of Physiology, Federal University of Parana, Curitiba, PR, Brazil; 2Curitiba Zoo, Rua Presidente Faria s/n, Curitiba, PR, Brazil


Margays (Leopardus wiedii) and tigrinas (Leopardus tigrinus), as well as most small cat species, have a very low breeding success in captivity which may partly be a consequence of poor captive environment and/or husbandry.1 Difficulties to cope with threatening or aversive captive conditions as well as low stimulus diversity environments may lead animals to experience stress and boredom, which in turn can compromise health and reproduction. From the scarce data on the normal behavior of margays and tigrinas, either in the wild or in captivity, it is assumed that they are nocturnal animals, spending most of the daytime resting or sleeping. Margays have more arboreal habits than tigrinas, choosing branches of trees or platforms to rest upon. Both species are very secretive and shy, spending large amounts of time out of sight or asleep when in exhibit. In previous studies, it was found that male margays and tigrinas excrete significantly higher levels of corticoids in feces than ocelots in similar captive conditions, while fecal androgen levels and sperm quality were significantly lower.2,3 Efforts to increase reproductive success should include environmental enrichment to alleviate stress, stimulate activity, and provide animals with the perception of security and comfort. Thus, the objective of this study was to evaluate the behavioral effects of three different captive conditions in margays and tigrinas. Specifically, we compared a baseline situation (condition 1) with enclosure enrichment through addition of furnishings (condition 2) and enclosure enrichment plus providing live prey (condition 3).

Six adult margays (two males and four females) and four tigrinas (one male and three females) were studied during a 90-day period. All tigrinas were singly housed and the two male margays were paired with females. Throughout the experimental period, the cats were housed in off-exhibit, outdoor, wire-mesh enclosures (2.60 × 2.90 × 2.00 m) with a secluded hiding area (1.50 × 1.60 × 1.20 m) containing a dense box. During the baseline period (condition 1) which lasted 30 days, the furnishings consisted of a raised (1.2 m) wooden platform (1.0 × 0.4 m) and a box containing sand (0.8 × 0.4 × 0.3 m) on the floor, just below the platform. For the second 30-day period (condition 2), extra enclosure furnishings were provided. One or two tree branches, placed diagonally from the floor or from the raised platform to the top, a hollow log on the raised platform for tigrinas or hanging from the top over the platform for margays, a vase (0.20 × 0.80 m) with vegetation at the front of enclosure on the same side of the platform, and, for margays only, a rope hanging diagonally from the top (opposite direction to the branches) were placed within the exhibits. During conditions 1 and 2, animals were fed a meat-based diet, supplemented with vitamins and minerals, offered once per day in the afternoon. Early in the morning, freshly killed rats were offered at least twice per week as a supplement. Water was available ad libitum from a small shallow pool on the front enclosure floor (opposite to the vase with vegetation). During the last 30 days of the study (condition 3), enclosure conditions were maintained, however, feeding schedule was altered by providing live prey in alternate days instead of the supplement of rat carcasses. Each cat was fed one adult live quail inside a small cardboard box with small holes, left on the floor of the enclosure before normal feeding time. Behavioral observations were made from 1000 to 1500 hours, Monday-Friday, every week. This time frame was chosen because of the regular husbandry and feeding routine which included cleaning the enclosures while the cats were kept at the adjacent holding area. All cats were observed each day for a 30 minutes period in a rotational schedule with the goal of obtaining observations which were representative of the cat’s overall activity during the daily time frame. Different behaviors were scored using instantaneous point sampling4 via direct observation at 1-minute intervals for 30-minute periods and included one of the following major categories (sleeping, rest/alert, locomotion, stereotypic pacing, and other) or the out-of-sight category, when the animals were hidden. Location in one of the four equal-sized areas on the floor or at the hiding area, raised platform, branches, hollow log, or rope (only for margays) were also recorded at 1-minute intervals. For analysis, behaviors under each condition (excluding time while out-of-sight) as well as location were expressed as daily percentages and comparisons between conditions were tested with a Kruskall-Wallis test. The Mann-Whitney test was used for comparisons between species in each condition. Space use was evaluated using the spread of participation index (SPI), as previously described for small cats.4

The two species greatly differed in relation to total daily activity and space utilization during the baseline period, as well as to the effects of the captive modifications made under conditions 2 and 3. Tigrinas spent 98.5% of the time out of sight during condition 1, which did not differ (p>0.05) from conditions 2 (97.3%) and 3 (95.0%). However, during baseline, animals stayed hidden most of the time (98.5%) at the holding area, changing to the hollow log (76.4%) during condition 2 and using almost equally the two locations (holding area, 44.3% and hollow log, 54.0%) during condition 3. During the rare occasions when tigrinas were visible, they were displaying stereotypic pacing (74.5% at condition 1), which was reduced during condition 2 (13.6%) and 3 (42.9%), although differences were not significant (p>0.05). Pacing was replaced by increasing rest/alert and locomotion behaviors in condition 2 (81.4% rest/alert and 5.7% locomotion) and 3 (35.0% rest/alert and 35.7% locomotion). Margays on the other hand, were visible most of the time (79.6%) during baseline condition and changes in the captive environment significantly (p<0.05) increased this percentage to 91.2% and 93.6% with the addition of new furnishings and live prey in conditions 2 and 3, respectively. During condition 1, however, animals spent most of the time sleeping (43.0%) or rest/alert (39.7%) with very low motion activity (9.2%), including some stereotypic pacing (3.0%). At condition 2 and 3, animals spent more time awake (p<0.05), with sleeping time reduced, respectively, to 23.4% and 18.1%. Alertness was higher (p<0.05) either at condition 2 (62.2%) or 3 (70.0%) in relation to baseline. Locomotion was not affected, representing around 8% of total activity throughout the experiment. The locations preferred by margays at baseline were the raised platform (69.1%) and the holding area (20.0%). With new furnishings, time spent at holding area was reduced to 9.0% and at platform to 52.8%. Cats stayed at the hollow log 28.8% of the time with some incursions to the branches (1.3%). This pattern was maintained at condition 3, with time divided between the platform (44.3%) and the hollow log (35.0%). On a few occasions, margays were seen playing on the ropes (0.1%), however not quantified, keepers observed this behavior more frequently. Space use, as indicated by SPI value, did not change significantly between conditions for both species. Tigrinas has an SPI of 0.98 throughout the study (cats spent most of the time in one area). Margays had a SPI around 0.91, which differed from tigrinas (p<0.05), although both values are high, indicating minimum utilization of the area. Margays tended to be on the ground with a higher frequency (8.8%) than tigrinas (1.1%) (p<0.05).

In conclusion, these results indicate that, at least for margays, providing the enclosure with more furnishings and hiding places can significantly reduce the time animals spent sleeping, an effect even more consistent with the simultaneous inclusion of live prey. Although basal locomotion was not increased, apart from the short-term effects immediately following live prey presentation (data not included), alertness was increased and, even for tigrinas, the identification of the animals outside in the hollow log may be interpreted as an increase in well-being and a reduction of fear. Perhaps the low levels of locomotion is related to the lack of sufficient cover from keepers and zoo personnel or to the nocturnal habits of these species. We are currently measuring fecal corticoids for these same animals to evaluate impact of these behavioral changes in stress level.


This work was supported by a grant from Sector of Biological Sciences, Federal University of Parana (PROSEAPEX), and Course of Specialization in Physiology (UFPR). The authors thank the zoo personnel for enclosure furnishings and assistance with sample collection.

Literature Cited

1.  Mellen J. Factors influencing reproductive success in small captive exotic felids (Felis sp.): a multiple regression analysis. Zoo Biol. 1991;10:95–110.

2.  Morais RN, Moreira N, Moraes W, Mucciolo RG, Lacerda O, Gomes MLF, et al. Testicular and ovarian function in South American felids assessed by fecal steroids. In: Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. 1996:561–565.

3.  Morais RN, Mucciolo RG, Gomes MLF, Lacerda O, Moraes W, Moreira N, et al. Adrenal activity assessed by fecal corticoids and male reproductive traits in three South American felid species. In: Proceedings of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. 1997:220–223.

4.  Shepherdson DJ, Carlstead K, Mellen JD, Seidensticker J. The influence of food presentation on the behavior of small cats in confined environments. Zoo Biol. 1993;12:203–216.


Speaker Information
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Rosana N. Morais, DVM, PhD
Department of Physiology
Federal University of Parana
Curitiba, PR, Brazil

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