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Article

Bold Frogs or Shy Toads? How Did the COVID-19 Closure of Zoological Organisations Affect Amphibian Activity?

1
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Slimbridge, Gloucestershire GL2 7BT, UK
2
Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour, Psychology, Washington Singer, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QG, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Grace Fuller, Jennifer Hamilton and Stephanie Allard
Animals 2021, 11(7), 1982; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11071982
Received: 10 June 2021 / Revised: 25 June 2021 / Accepted: 30 June 2021 / Published: 2 July 2021
The visitor effect describes how zoo animals respond to the presence of visitors to their enclosures in a positive, negative or neutral manner. The period of enforced closure of zoos due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 (and subsequent reopening later that year) allowed for the effect of visitor presence to be evaluated on several species of amphibian. Results have shown that amphibian visibility (i.e., likelihood to be on show in their enclosure) is potentially influenced by the presence of people, and therefore, enclosure layout, collection planning and amphibian husbandry should consider how to minimize any negative influences of the viewing public.
Amphibians are an understudied group in the zoo-focussed literature. Whilst commonly housed in specialist exhibits and of real conservation value due to the global extinction crisis, amphibian welfare is not often investigated empirically in zoo settings. The limited research that is available suggests that enclosure design (structure, planting and naturalistic theming) has a positive impact on the time that amphibians will be on show to visitors. However, the categorisation of any “visitor effect” (i.e., influences of visitor presence on amphibian activity and time on display) is hard to find. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of zoological organisations in the UK for several months from March 2020, with gradual re-openings from the summer into autumn and winter. This event provided a unique opportunity to study the effect of the lack of visitors, the presence of essential zoo staff only, the wider return of organisational staff, and then the return of visitors over a prolonged period. This project at WWT Slimbridge Wetlands Centre assessed the number of individuals of six species of amphibian—common toad (Bufo bufo), common frog (Rana temporaria), smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris), pool frog (Pelophylax lessonae), golden mantella (Mantella aurantiaca) and golden poison dart frog (Phyllobates terribilis)—visible to observers under different conditions. All amphibians were housed in a purpose-built indoor exhibit of individual enclosures and were recorded when visible (as a proportion of the total population of the enclosure) during closure, the return of extra centre staff and visitor periods. The results showed species-specific differences in visibility, with some species of amphibian being more likely to be on view when the presence of people at their enclosure was less likely or in smaller numbers. Such differences are likely related to the specific camouflage or anti-predation tactics in these focal species. Further study to quantify amphibian sensitivity to, and perception of, environmental change caused by public presence (e.g., light levels and sound) would be useful welfare-themed research extensions. Our results can help inform husbandry, collection planning and amphibian enclosure design to reduce any noticeable visitor effects, and provide a useful benchmark for further, more complex, welfare assessment measures. View Full-Text
Keywords: amphibian welfare; amphibian behaviour; visitor effect; COVID-19; enclosure usage; evidence-based husbandry amphibian welfare; amphibian behaviour; visitor effect; COVID-19; enclosure usage; evidence-based husbandry
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MDPI and ACS Style

Boultwood, J.; O’Brien, M.; Rose, P. Bold Frogs or Shy Toads? How Did the COVID-19 Closure of Zoological Organisations Affect Amphibian Activity? Animals 2021, 11, 1982. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11071982

AMA Style

Boultwood J, O’Brien M, Rose P. Bold Frogs or Shy Toads? How Did the COVID-19 Closure of Zoological Organisations Affect Amphibian Activity? Animals. 2021; 11(7):1982. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11071982

Chicago/Turabian Style

Boultwood, Jack, Michelle O’Brien, and Paul Rose. 2021. "Bold Frogs or Shy Toads? How Did the COVID-19 Closure of Zoological Organisations Affect Amphibian Activity?" Animals 11, no. 7: 1982. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11071982

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