The role of feline vocalizations for in situ conservation and ex situ welfare

This research is conducted by Rosaria Santoro, a doctoral student in Conservation Biology at Manchester Metropolitan University. In 2022, she won the Pairi Daiza Foundation Grant for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, a research grant worth €2,500, awarded in collaboration with the Royal Belgian Zoological Society, aimed at supporting the work of a young researcher in the field of biodiversity conservation. Her project aims to study the vocalizations of various feline species using bioacoustic techniques to improve the counting of felines in the wild on one hand and to optimize their welfare in zoos on the other. Passive acoustics is an increasingly used method for monitoring wildlife through sound recordings. Recorders placed in the field capture acoustic data over a certain period. These data are then analyzed to extract the desired information (such as animal calls). Given the challenge of counting felines based on observation in the wild, passive acoustics could bring many benefits to the in situ conservation of these species. Furthermore, the simultaneous use of multiple recorders allows for animal localization (triangulation). Obtaining accurate data on the number, density, and location of felines would be valuable for their in situ conservation.


Vocalization as enrichment material in zoos

At several mammal species, the ability to distinguish vocalizations from different individuals has been demonstrated. Whether this is also the case with felines is not yet known. To answer this question, the researcher will play recordings of vocalizations from familiar and unfamiliar conspecifics in the enclosures of various felines, and observe their behavioral response. In addition to gaining a better understanding of communication in felines, playing recordings of vocalizations from other animals can also be enriching for the felines and may be integrated into the enrichment program for felines in zoos.


The felines at Pairi Daiza, valuable contributors to the research

To answer the questions posed by this research, it is necessary to collect a large number of high-quality vocalizations from the species involved. Given the difficulty of recording vocalizations of felines in the wild, turning to animals in zoos provides both a greater number and greater diversity of sounds. Additionally, this makes it easier to gather other data, such as the size, age, sex, and history of each individual, which are important parameters for individual acoustic analyses.

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