How many animals get killed by other animals in zoos?

I’ve been watching a New Zealand TV program called “The Zoo” over the last few weeks. It’s about the day to day events at Auckland Zoo.

I’ve seen quite a few instances on the show where animals (of the same species) are being introduced into the same pens and the keepers get worried about the potential for violence.

On yesterday’s episode, for example, two rhinos were put in the same enclosure and one seemed to come quite close to eviscerating the other with its horn. They were later seperated, and the keepers didn’t seem too optimistic that any future attempts at getting the animals to live together harmoniously would be successful.

In the same episode two male lions were added to the same enclosure as two female lions. The keepers were standing around with fire extinguishers and tranquilizing dartguns in case things got nasty. Fortunately they didn’t.

I suspect that if things had gotten bloody the footage would never be aired, but it got me wondering how many of these incidents go awry.

Thoughts, anyone?

I work in a zoo. Introductions are very carefully monitored. We often take things in stages, including switching furniture and bedding, so the animals start to learn one another’s smells, then using a “howdy” cage, so the animals can see and smell one another, but don’t have contact. Eventually, things move up to “dating,” where the animals are put into a neutral space, which isn’t the territory of one or the other; sometimes at this point, the keepers may “stress the bond,” putting the animals in a lightly stressful situation, such as weird sounds or smells, so they huddle together for comfort.

Obviously, it really helps for the keepers to know their animals very well, not just as a species, but as individuals. Some species bond easier than others - gregarious animals like meerkats or rabbits LIKE to be around others of their species. I believe rhinos are usually solitary in the wild, which may explain part of the behaviour you saw on TV. Breeding behaviour can also complicate intros, as normal mating behaviour between, say, cats, can look quite violent to onlookers.

Our zoo is small, and (I can say this as an insider) inclined to be a bit soppy about our animals. If an introduction really wasn’t working out, we’d find alternate housing for the newcomer, even rehoming them in another zoo. Zoo transfers are perhaps more common than you might think, specially here in the US where we have so many of them.