Mahurin Honors College Capstone Experience/Thesis Projects



Document Type



The behavior of the elusive clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) is not well understood. In captivity, they are prone to exhibit stress-related behaviors and are often aggressive to conspecifics when paired. The present study built on past research by examining clouded leopards at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere (NZG) to determine their activity patterns and temperament. Twelve leopards were exposed to familiar and unfamiliar objects and people, as well as their reflection in a mirror over nine trials. The males were often more reactive than the females, and the 5-year olds more reactive than their younger counterparts. The mirror image and unfamiliar object trials brought out the most aggressive and stereotypic behaviors, while the behaviors expressed in the familiar person and familiar object trials were mild. Individual leopards were then categorized as “content,” “anxious,” or “disinterested.” Content leopards were the only ones to play, while anxious leopards performed more interactive events than the other temperaments. The quality of care at the NZG can therefore be considered good because of the few stereotypic or aggressive behaviors exhibited by the leopards. High quality of care can be supplemented through environmental enrichment, which can provide a means for improving reproductive success within the species. It may also provide a platform for social interaction or promote complex thinking. Regardless of these more specific goals, zoos such as the NZG use environmental enrichment to improve the quality of life for their animals. However, zoos serve many different purposes, which may come into conflict with one another. Therefore, zoos must carefully consider the needs of each species and individual when introducing environmental enrichment, so that every individual can remain as healthy and content as possible.

Advisor(s) or Committee Chair

Dr. Bruce Shulte


Animal Experimentation and Research | Biology | Zoology