The benefits…and pitfalls…of a captive audience

A hyena is a hyena, right? Not necessarily.

When it comes to behavioral traits, whether or not said hyena is captive or wild can make a big difference. Michigan State University graduate student Sarah Benson-Amram was studying the problem-solving skills of the animals. She presented both a captive hyena and a wild hyena with a steel box filled with a raw meat treat inside. The hyenas could open the box, but they had to figure out how to do it themselves. The captive hyena immediately started chewing on and playing with the box, opening it relatively quickly and winning the treat. The wild hyena approached the cage very cautiously, constantly looking around and taking note of its surroundings before turning its attention to the puzzle.

While the reasons for the two different behaviors aren’t fully known (the wild hyena may have suspected a hidden threat with the puzzle, or the captive hyena may have been more bored and willing to attack a new activity), what is known is the implications of Benson-Amram’s findings. Researchers often use captive animals to observe and record behaviors or certain animals and then apply those to their brothers in the wild. But if two animals of the same species will act this differently, that research may not be accurate.

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