Risk factors for stereotypic behaviour in captive ungulates

Kate Emily Lewis*, Matt Parker, Leanne Proops, Sebastian D. McBride*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Behavioural needs are highly motivated actions critical to a species’ survival and reproduction. Prolonged restriction of these behaviours can lead to stereotypic behaviours (SB) in captive animals, and this is particularly common in ungulate species. While risk factors for SB have been suggested for some ungulates, no study has integrated these findings to identify which aspects of ungulates’ wild behavioural biology and captive husbandry are potential drivers for SB across this clade. We collated SB data from 15 236 individuals across 38 ungulate species from 95 sources, and determined species’ wild/free-ranging behaviour from 559 additional studies. Bayesian-phylogenetic statistical methods showed that ungulate behavioural needs relating to foraging and mating are particularly affected by captive environments, with promiscuous and browsing species showing the greatest prevalence of SB. Concentrate-only diets and lack of ad libitum feed substrates were also associated with high SB prevalence. This study identifies which ungulates are better suited to captive environments and which species require targeted husbandry, enrichment and breeding protocols in order to meet their behavioural needs. Our approach of applying Bayesian-phylogenetic inference to factors influencing SB within a clade can be used to identify other intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors of reduced animal health and welfare.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1983
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2022


  • stereotypic behaviour
  • stereotypies
  • ungulate
  • behavioural needs
  • captivity
  • animal welfare


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