Observing Animal Behaviour

Observing Animal Behaviour

Understanding Animal Behaviour Observation

  • Animal behaviour observation involves systematically watching and recording the physical and interactive activity of animals.
  • Direct observation requires the observer to be physically present, whereas indirect observation can involve the use of tools like camera traps or tracking devices.
  • Quantitative observations involve recording numerical data such as frequency or duration of behaviours, while qualitative observations describe behaviours without using numerical measures.
  • Observations can be made in either a naturalistic setting (wildlife or free-roaming domestic animals) or a controlled setting (laboratory, zoo or other captive environment).

Observation Techniques

  • Ad libitum sampling is a non-systematic method where any behaviours of interest are noted down. This method is flexible, but may result in biased observations.
  • Focal animal sampling involves observing a single animal for a pre-determined period and recording all incidences of particular behaviours.
  • Scan sampling involves observing all members of a group at regular intervals and recording their behaviours at those moments.
  • Behaviour sampling focuses on recording occurrences of specific actions, regardless of which animals are exhibiting them.

Use of Ethograms

  • An ethogram is a catalogue or table of all the different types of behaviour exhibited by a species.
  • Ethograms are useful tools for organizing observational data and helping researchers standardize their descriptions of behaviours.
  • Ethograms typically include a description of the behaviour, the context in which it occurs, and its presumed function or goal.

Challenges in Observing Animal Behaviour

  • Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to animals, and can lead to misinterpretations of animal behaviour.
  • There can be considerable individual variation within a species, making it necessary to observe multiple individuals to get an accurate picture of the species’ behaviours.
  • Observer effect refers to the potential for the observer’s presence to influence animal behaviour.
  • Habituation can be used to decrease the impact of the observer effect.

Importance of Recording and Interpreting Data

  • Meticulous data recording is essential in animal behaviour observation to draw valid conclusions about the animal’s behaviour.
  • Accurate observation and interpretation of animal behaviour can help in behaviour modification, awareness of health or welfare problems, and improvement of captivity conditions.