Impact of Cognitive Enrichment on Welfare of Zoo, Lab and Farm Animals

Animals in the wild are facing a variety of challenges and ever-changing environmental stimuli. In contrast, zoo, lab and farm animals are exposed to rather barren husbandry conditions which often offer only few opportunities to adequately perform species–specific behaviour. Consequently, these limitations can lead to boredom, stress or frustration due to a lack of sensory and cognitive stimulation.

The positive impact of structural forms of environmental enrichment on animal welfare is well documented. Because successful coping with appropriate cognitive challenges is considered a source of positive emotions and may thus effect measures of animal welfare (such as behavioural flexibility and stress physiology), new approaches have been developed to integrate cognitive challenges into the housing of zoo, lab, and farm animals.

Critically, more research is needed to investigate the cognitive abilities of animals kept under husbandry conditions per se to determine species-specific tasks that are challenging but do not overcharge the animals. To this end, a diverse set of cognitive tests are important tools with which to investigate the mental capacities of non-human animals. However, the long-term impact of these tests on measures of animal welfare has been rarely investigated.

In our new project, we will provide insights into the long-term effects of repeated cognitive stimulation through cognitive tests on behavioural, motivational and physiological parameters of domestic animals, providing basic knowledge for the incorporation of cognitive enrichment into concepts of animal welfare.

Click here for further information on this project.


Photo: Thomas Häntzschel / nordlicht