The Use of Personality Assessments in Designing Environmental Enrichment for Garnett's Bushbabies (Otolemur garnettii)
Recently the study of animal personality has become an important and credible topic of research and a number of studies have revealed personality traits in a variety of species. The consideration of individual animal personality traits is important for animal management and welfare. For example, ensuring inter-individual compatibility in group housing animals may serve to ensure the safety of the whole group. To date, no formal research has been conducted on whether the assessment of individual personality traits could be used as a tool for individualizing environmental enrichment interventions. The goal of environmental enrichment is to increase the rate of species-typical behaviors in captive animals. Prior research has, for the most part, implemented enrichment strategies generically, exposing all animals to the same intervention (de Azevedo, et al., 2007). Individual animals have unique problems or preferences, and would greatly benefit from enrichment plans tailored specifically for them. However, testing multiple enrichment options with all individuals of a large group would be very time-consuming and cost-prohibitive. A possible solution is to assess the different personalities within the group and provide various enrichment interventions based on individual personalities. The current study examined this possibility by testing whether certain enrichment options match particular personalities. First, personality traits of ten Garnett's bushbabies were assessed and the subjects were categorized as either high or low on five personality factors: Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Second, all ten subjects were exposed to five different environmental enrichment interventions, which were designed to reflect the five personality factors. The effectiveness of each enrichment intervention was assessed by examining activity levels, stereotypic behaviors, and resting behaviors before and after exposure to the enrichment interventions. The results indicated that all five enrichment interventions did improve the animals' welfare by increasing activity levels and decreasing stereotypic behaviors. In addition, some of the enrichment interventions differentially benefited the subjects based on their individual personality traits. For example, following the enrichment intervention created for the factor of Agreeableness, highly agreeable (more affiliative and friendly) subjects significantly decreased their maladaptive behaviors. Overall, this study suggests that individualized plans of enrichment related to personality differences are beneficial to a prosimian species.