High priority species are those which have complex environmental demands in the wild. These demands can impact on survival and as such, the ability of the individual to make complex cognitive decisions is crucial for survival. Generalist species adapted to an extreme environment, species with complex social structures and/or those which exhibit complex anti-predator behaviours, are all required to make decisions from information previously learned and interpreted. These factors can make them difficult to hold well in captivity.
Kea are considered to be highly intelligent and have developed to survive in a complex environment. As such they fall into the category of a ‘high priority species’ requiring high levels of complexity and novelty in their environments to prevent abnormal repetitive behaviours (stereotypies).
To ensure abnormal behaviours do not develop they must be provided with an environment that is highly variable in its design and in enrichment items introduced within it. Any enrichment programme must be highly variable, evolving and adaptable and encompass the keas physiological, psychological and social requirements. Where possible, routines should be flexible to ensure the reduction of any anticipatory behaviour.
As any degree of stereotypic performance has been linked with a deficit in the captive environment, it may be concluded that there are potential welfare issues in holding kea in captivity that require careful management.
Links to research – Gajdon; Kreger et al (1998); Mench(1998)