Paper Type

Master's Thesis


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (MS)



NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Quincy Gibson

Second Advisor

Dr. Terry Maple

Rights Statement

Third Advisor

Dr. Meredith Bashaw

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Gregory Kohn

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Adam Rosenblatt

Department Chair

Dr. Cliff Ross (Biology) & Matt Gilg (Graduate Biology)

College Dean

Dr. George Rainbolt


Close encounters with animals are considered integral for visitors and are trademark components of traditional educational engagement in zoological parks. As capacity for up-close encounters continue to increase with a simultaneous development in the field of animal welfare science, behavioral assessments on the role of common close encounters is timely. Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis) visitor feeding programs are established in approximately 57% of institutions accredited by Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Due to successful breeding and capacity building for zoological giraffe populations, this percentage will likely continue to increase. There is a great deal of variation in the environmental design of giraffe visitor feeding programs across institutions and limited understanding on the role of these variables on individual and group welfare for giraffes. The first chapter of this study behaviorally assesses the effects of space availability and observes the role of feed-type in the usage, interaction types, and measures of welfare in two different zoological institutions. Findings indicate that increased space availability increase sharing by individuals as well length of feeding bouts potentially influencing feeding comfort. Space also modulates aggression at the visitor station as displacement rates decreased with additional space and were overall lower in giraffes housed under large type feeding stations. Results show that individuals increase their displacement rate while at the visitor feeding station, potentially indicating that guest station significantly increases competition among conspecifics. The second chapter explores the role of social structure and dynamics on guest station interactions and usage. Though giraffes are thought to establish predominantly linear dominance hierarchy based on resource competition in zoological settings, the consequence of artificially concentrated resources for the purpose of guest interactions has not been investigated. Zoological studies and recent population studies provide a baseline understanding for the role of pro-social feeding interactions and social structure in giraffe populations as it relates to food distribution, however, there is limited understanding of the role that social structure plays on the usage of guest feeding programs. Here we found that social structure metrics of centrality and importance of affiliative interactions play a role in sharing the guest station, though conspecific direct ties on exhibit are not transferable to ties at the guest station. Additionally, the study indicates that dominance structure as calculated by exhibit displacement interactions does not represent the dominance dynamics observed at the guest station. We suggest a variety of guest engagement opportunities which may better represent the social structure of these populations and suggest assessment of these programs to other institutions. This study validates the benefits of assessing animal behavior in zoological settings under context dependent interactions for the purpose of improving animal welfare enhancing guest engagement opportunities.