A View from the Field: What the Lives of Wild Animals Can Teach Us About Care of Laboratory Animals

Kay E. Holekamp

My goal in this presentation is to review briefly a few seminal contributions from classical ethology and contemporary behavioral ecology that might help us develop better guidelines for use and care of laboratory animals. All of these contributions emphasize the importance of understanding the lives of animals in nature as we try to improve laboratory guidelines. I shall illustrate some of my points here with examples drawn from the lives of my own study animal, the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), and other free-living mammals.

In his charming treatise on animal behavior titled “A Stroll Through the Worlds of Animals and Men,” Jacob Von Uexkull (1934) observed that animals perceive only limited portions of their total environment. He asked the reader to consider a tick perched on a blade of grass, being bombarded at any given moment by thousands of wavelengths of both light and sound, hundreds of thousands of odorant molecules, myriad tactile stimuli, and information regarding gravity, humidity, and ambient temperature. Of all these countless stimuli hitting the tick, only a tiny few are important for its survival and reproduction, and it is only those few stimuli that the tick must sense and to which it must respond appropriately. All other stimuli are tuned out. Von Uexkull called the array of stimuli existing in the sensory-perceptual world of any animal its Umwelt. We now understand that the Umwelt of each species is unique, and it is important that we understand the Umwelt of each species in our care in the laboratory. This allows us to determine what is and is not salient to



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