Life is a stressful environment

Stress in captive and wild animals

source: Peter Taylor-Whiffen
Independent, Open Eye May 7 2002 p5

Frederick Toates, psychobiology reader at the Open University, has studied stress in animals. He notes that stress may result from loss of control in caged animals, leading to stereotypy, or repetitive behaviour. Animals need stimulation, without which they function at a reflexive, level, where they operate without thinking. Boredom and/or stress can trigger a drop to this reflexive level. Birds may pluck feathers, cats and bears may pace, and monkeys may rock themselves. Hormonal changes, problems with neighbours, pain and hunger can also lead humans to become stressed. Captive animals need rich environments to ease boredom. However, Toates says that wild animals can also suffer from stress, for example wild primates at the bottom of a hierarchical structure. In some ways, animals may be less stressed in captivity than in the wild, for example, captive animals do not face natural predators.

Veterinary science has come to recognise that animals have feelings, though some scientists prefer to focus on what can be measured, such as hormone levels, rather than feelings, which cannot be observed. Toates sees his research as important for animal welfare, and as having economic significance, since animals may harm themselves when under stress.