Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


College of Science and Mathematics



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Julian Paul Keenan

Committee Member

Cortni Borgerson

Committee Member

Scott Kight


Animal welfare encompasses the physical and mental state of an animal, as well as how that animal is cared for. Recently, zoological settings have shifted from strictly housing animals to improving the welfare of the animal such that the goal of captivity is for residents to thrive. This is especially crucial as global wildlife numbers and biodiversity continues to decrease due to anthropogenic impacts such as poaching, mining, habitat destruction, fragmentation. Further confounding this issue is climate change, air pollution, invasive species, ocean acidification, and more. In particular, the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is an endangered species whose declined 50% within last three generations (20 years). Thus, maintaining captive populations, and ensuring their subsequent reproductive success, is vital for the longevity and diversity of this species.

To examine the welfare of zoo-housed red pandas, behavioral assessments were made in response to different environmental variables, including visitor number, weather, temperature, environmental change, and the presence or absence of a conspecific. From February to December of 2022, observations were made for three-hour sessions one to two times per week at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, located in West Orange, New Jersey.

It was found that zoo visitor numbers and time with a conspecific were most important factors in determining stereotypies in subjects. Behaviors indicative of stress were significantly correlated with higher temperatures and visitor numbers, while more time with a conspecific reduced stress-linked behaviors. It was also discovered that pacing duration was significantly predicted by environmental factors, with again, zoo visitor numbers being the most influential. Overall, this study identified significant correlations between environmental factors with space use and behavior, establishing a valuable starting point for the development of zoo management strategies with the goal of reducing stress and improving captive red panda welfare.

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