Evaluating the impact of different housing and husbandry regimes on the welfare of zoo housed koalas, Phascolarctos cinereus. (#337)
Koalas are an endemic Australian icon, attracting the attention of many visitors; especially as they are a rarity in zoos outside of the region. Their conservation status is highly debated, but that their future is being determined by anthropogenic factors is not. Zoo housed koalas have the potential to encourage positive environmental behaviours in visitors when they learn of the consequences their actions have on the future survival of this, and other species. Various approaches have been taken to facilitate the promulgation of this message, resulting in different housing and husbandry regimes. The evaluation of the impact of these regimes on the behaviour and welfare of koalas has however been limited; both in sample size and in factors evaluated. Folivores, which are behaviourally cryptic, the study of koala behaviour and welfare is challenging. In this current study, various indices have been collated (including behaviour, endocrine function and personality) on different populations of zoo koala to validate welfare indices in the species, and explore the impact of different regimes on them. The results from this study represent the integration of traditional and novel methods of welfare assessment, in a seldom studied taxa, to meet a contemporary demand of stimulating positive environmental behaviours in communities whose actions without mitigation are likely to lead to the extinction of this Australian icon.