Personality and well-being in felids : assessment and applications to captive management and conservation
Gartner, Marieke Cassia
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Research in animal personality has been increasing over the last decade, as scientists realise its importance to a variety of health outcomes. In particular, personality has been shown to have an effect on immune function, stress, infant survival, overall well-being, morbidity, and mortality. Because of this, personality can play an important role in captive management, especially as stress is often a problem for captive animals. Research has already shown that personality affects captive breeding efforts, enclosure grouping, and stress regulation in some species. Only a few studies have focused on felids, but these have shown that there are possible applications for personality in that taxon. Because most felids are endangered, and because many of them face special challenges in captivity due to their size and biology, this work aimed to increase knowledge on felids, using personality as a framework, with implications for captive management as a target. Focusing on five species, I assessed the personality of domestic cats, Scottish wildcats, clouded and snow leopards, and African lions, and the well-being of the four latter species. With the exception of the domestic cat, there has been little to no personality work in these species, and none on well-being. I then compared the data within and among these species. I found three main personality factors among the species, including dimensions I labelled Neuroticism, Dominance, and Impulsiveness, with some differences, including an Agreeableness factor in some species, and elements of Openness. As in other species, well-being was negatively related to Neuroticism in most of the study species. Taking into consideration each species’ biology, natural history, and genetics, I discuss the implications and importance of using these species’ personality and well-being assessments in both captive management and conservation efforts. The results indicate that, like in humans, a targeted, individual approach to care is the best use of personality for captive animals.