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Article

Koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) Seek Out Tactile Interaction with Humans: General Patterns and Individual Differences

Department of Environmental Studies, New York University, New York, NY 10003, USA
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: Leslie Irvine
Animals 2021, 11(3), 706; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030706
Received: 31 January 2021 / Revised: 24 February 2021 / Accepted: 26 February 2021 / Published: 5 March 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Encountering Animals)
To assess the possibility of forming stable and trusting relationships between humans and fishes, we documented the interactions between a familiar human experimenter and seven koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus). Analyses of video data shows that overall, koi spent more time than expected in close proximity to the human and even sought out physical contact. Moreover, individual fish displayed unique interaction patterns, with some frequently engaging in tactile interaction and others only periodically or rarely doing so. By demonstrating that koi will voluntarily interact with humans and that individual differences play an important role in interaction style, this study provides the first evidence that individuated human–fish relationships may be possible, which has powerful implications for how we think about, treat, protect, and provide care for fish.
The study of human–animal interactions has provided insights into the welfare of many species. To date, however, research has largely focused on human relationships with captive mammals, with relatively little exploration of interactions between humans and other vertebrates, despite non-mammals constituting the vast majority of animals currently living under human management. With this study, we aimed to address this gap in knowledge by investigating human–fish interactions at a community garden/aquaponics learning-center that is home to approximately 150 goldfish (Carassius auratus) and seven adult and two juvenile koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus). After a habituation period (July–September 2019) during which time the fish were regularly provided with the opportunity to engage with the researcher’s submerged hand, but were not forced to interact with the researcher, we collected video data on 10 non-consecutive study days during the month of October. This procedure produced 18~20-min interaction sessions, 10 during T1 (when the experimenter first arrived and the fish had not been fed) and eight during T2 (20–30 min after the fish had been fed to satiation; two sessions of which were lost due equipment malfunction). Interactions between the researcher and the seven adult koi were coded from video based on location (within reach, on the periphery, or out of reach from the researcher) and instances of physical, tactile interaction. Analyses revealed that overall, koi spent more time than expected within reach of the researcher during both T1 (p < 0.02) and T2 (p < 0.03). There were also substantial differences between individuals’ overall propensity for being within-reach and engaging in physical interaction. These results show that koi will voluntarily interact with humans and that individual koi display unique and consistent patterns of interaction. By providing quantitative data to support anecdotal claims that such relationships exist around the world, this research contributes to the ongoing discoveries highlighting the profound dissonance between how humans think about and treat fish and who fish actually are, thereby emphasizing the necessity of stronger moral and legal protections for fishes. View Full-Text
Keywords: human–animal interaction; human–animal relationship; Cyprinus rubrofuscus; koi; carp; aquatic veterinary science; ornamental fish; captive animal welfare; fish welfare; animal protection; empathy; positive welfare; environmental enrichment; personality; cognition human–animal interaction; human–animal relationship; Cyprinus rubrofuscus; koi; carp; aquatic veterinary science; ornamental fish; captive animal welfare; fish welfare; animal protection; empathy; positive welfare; environmental enrichment; personality; cognition
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MDPI and ACS Style

Fife-Cook, I.; Franks, B. Koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) Seek Out Tactile Interaction with Humans: General Patterns and Individual Differences. Animals 2021, 11, 706. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030706

AMA Style

Fife-Cook I, Franks B. Koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) Seek Out Tactile Interaction with Humans: General Patterns and Individual Differences. Animals. 2021; 11(3):706. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030706

Chicago/Turabian Style

Fife-Cook, Isabel, and Becca Franks. 2021. "Koi (Cyprinus rubrofuscus) Seek Out Tactile Interaction with Humans: General Patterns and Individual Differences" Animals 11, no. 3: 706. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11030706

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