On Kennesaw State University Week: Improvements to zoos can improve life for the animals that live there.
Allison L. Martin, assistant professor of psychology, looks into developing better practices for captive animals.
Dr. Allison Martin is an assistant professor of psychology at Kennesaw State University. She teaches courses in learning and behavior and research methodology, and she conducts research in animal behavior, animal training, and captive animal management and welfare. Dr. Martin received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Kennesaw State University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before joining the faculty at KSU, she worked in the fields of applied behavior analysis and primatology.
We benefit so much from our relationships with animals. They inspire, sustain, and comfort us. However, when we house animals in zoos, laboratories, farms, or even in our own homes, we change their environment in ways that can directly impact their welfare.
My research focuses on developing and assessing best practices for housing and training captive animals to promote their welfare. For example, increasing the size of an animal’s enclosure can have some benefit, but more benefits are typically seen when complexity is also added to their environment. This complexity could include social partners, climbing structures, or puzzle devices that make animals work for their food. Providing this environmental enrichment can increase desired behaviors such as foraging or playing and can decrease the occurrence of abnormal behaviors that we sometimes see in captive animals. In addition, we can use training procedures to decrease stress and fear responses to cleaning procedures or veterinary checks.
If behavior problems do develop, using a scientific assessment technique called a functional analysis can help to determine why the animal is engaging in that behavior. For example, I worked with a chimpanzee who threw feces at people. I was able to determine that the chimpanzee’s behavior was influenced by people providing social attention for this behavior. By giving the chimpanzee another, more appropriate, way to get social attention, we were able to decrease his throwing behavior.
Animal caregivers such as zookeepers, laboratory workers, farmers, and pet owners want to do what’s best for their animals. It’s my hope that my research will help identify which management strategies are most impactful so that we can best provide for the psychological well-being of animals in our care.