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Does increased space and environmental complexity change the flight behaviour of zoo housed fruit bats?

Year: 2022

Minette Payne
University of Reading, UK

Supervisor(s): Dr Kate Johnson, University of Reading, UK and Eluned Price, Jersey Zoo, UK


It is important for captive animals to have an enclosure that replicates their natural environment so that they perform natural behaviours. For bats, flight is an important natural behaviour for fitness (as they are prone to obesity) and reproductive success. In the wild, fruit bats fly miles to get to their food source for which they normally have to avoid obstacles to get to but this is hard to replicate in a captive environment.

This study looks to build on a previous study by Minette Payne, undertaken as part of her final year BSc dissertation at Jersey Zoo, which showed that increasing space and environmental complexity increased flight complexity and flight frequency.

Using the ZIMS (Zoological Information Management Software) database, which holds records on more than 22,000 species and ten million individual captive wild animals, this study will extend this work through two extension activities:

1. International survey of fruit bat housing.
All establishments that keep fruit bats will be identified and invited to participate in a short survey of bat housing. There has been no survey of bat housing in zoos and this is an under-researched area of zoo animal welfare. Using the information from the paired studies at Jersey zoo there is evidence that space, stocking density and environmental complexity influence flight behaviour.

2. UK national observational study of captive fruit bats
Ten UK establishments, in addition to Jersey Zoo, keep fruit bats. These will be visited and using he validated, published ethogram developed at Jersey zoo data will be collected on bat behaviour.

The behaviour of bats at each zoo will be compared against that from the previous study, along with relevant information on each enclosure to determine if these enclosures provide enough space and environmental complexity for flight and a high standard of welfare. It is hypothesised that this study will find that bats in smaller enclosures will fly less, with less complex flight patterns and potentially have more mid-air collisions depending on the population density.