Reducing prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) aggression in zoo colonies through food redistribution based on underground burrow mapping.
Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research 7(3): 126-133.
In 2014, staff at the Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo reported seeing high levels of aggression within their exhibit prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colony. Through RIZE (Research, Internships and Zoo Education), a service learning partnership between Fairfield University and The Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, the study set out to better understand the potential sources of aggression by documenting the colony’s behaviour and developing underground burrow maps using ground penetrating radar and polypropylene glycol fog. Observations and burrow maps suggest that the zoo colony consists of two distinct coteries and that territorial food aggression between individuals of these different coteries was the principal cause of increased hostility observed by zoo staff. To test this hypothesis, it was requested that zoo staff distribute the food within the enclosure so each of the two coteries had equal access to food. The redistribution of food according to coterie boundaries resulted in a significant decrease in aggressive behaviours (z=2.91, P=0.0). This study highlights the positive and practical impact that programs like RIZE can have for institutions like zoos and aquariums.