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Effects of Regulating Visitor Viewing Proximity and the Intensity of Visitor Behaviour on Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) Behaviour and Welfare

Animal Welfare Science Centre, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, North Melbourne, Victoria 3051, Australia
Biometrics Team, Agriculture Victoria Research, Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Hamilton, Victoria 3300, Australia
Department of Wildlife Conservation and Science, Zoos Victoria, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia
Centre for Integrative Ecology, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria 3216, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(6), 285;
Received: 2 May 2019 / Revised: 23 May 2019 / Accepted: 23 May 2019 / Published: 28 May 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Human Influences on the Behaviour and Welfare of Zoo Animals)
Some studies on zoo penguins have shown that the presence of visitors may be fear-provoking. To manage zoo visitor–animal interactions, it is important to determine what it is about visitors that affects zoo penguins. Consequently, we investigated the effects of regulating both zoo visitor viewing proximity to the penguin enclosure and the intensity of visitor behaviour on the behaviour and stress physiology of little penguins. A physical barrier was used to increase visitor viewing distance, by 2 m away from the enclosure, and signage and uniformed personnel was used to attempt to regulate the intensity of visitor behaviour. Signage and uniformed personnel had no effect on visitor number, noise level or visitor behaviour. However, the physical barrier reduced the frequency of potentially threatening visitor behaviours such as banging on enclosure features, looming over the pool, physical contact with the pool’s water and sudden movement. When visitors were further away from the enclosure, fewer penguins were huddling, vigilant, and retreating, and more penguins were close to the visitor viewing area, surface swimming and preening in the water. There were no effects of visitor viewing proximity or signage and uniformed personnel on the stress physiology of the little penguins. While there was no effect of signage and uniformed personnel in moderating visitor behaviour, the viewing proximity of visitors to the enclosure affected both visitor and penguin behaviour, where potentially threatening visitor behaviours were decreased and little penguins showed less avoidance behaviour when visitors were further away.
We examined the effects of regulating the viewing proximity of visitors and the intensity of visitor behaviour on behaviours indicative of fear and stress physiology of 15 zoo-housed little penguins (Eudyptula minor). A 2 × 2 factorial fully randomised design was used to examine the effects of regulating: (1) the viewing proximity of visitors to enclosure, ‘normal viewing distance’ and ’increased viewing distance’ (using a physical barrier set up 2 m away from the enclosure), and (2) the intensity of visitor behaviour, ‘unregulated visitor behaviour’ and ‘regulated visitor behaviour’ (using signage and uniformed personnel). In addition, a treatment consisting of closing the enclosure to visitors was included. Penguin behaviour, visitor numbers and visitor behaviour were recorded by CCTV video recordings and direct observations, respectively. Penguin faecal glucocorticoid metabolites were also analysed as a measure of stress physiology. We found that increased viewing distance reduced (p < 0.05) all visitor behaviours except for loud vocalisations and tactile contact with penguins. However, there were no direct effects of signage and uniformed personnel on visitor behaviour (p > 0.05). As the regulation of viewing proximity increased from a closed exhibit to an open exhibit with increased viewing distance, and then to an open exhibit with normal viewing distance, this increased the proportion of penguins huddling (p = 0.0011), vigilant (p = 0.0060) and retreating (p = 0.00013), and decreased the proportion of penguins within 1 m of the visitor viewing area (p = 0.00066), surface swimming (p = 0.00091) and preening in the water (p = 0.042). There were also limited effects of regulating visitor behaviour on penguin behaviour. No treatment effects were found on faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (p > 0.05). These results indicate that regulating visitor viewing proximity affects penguin behaviours indicative of fear and visitor behaviour. This suggests that close visitor contact can be fear-provoking for little penguins but increasing the distance between visitors and penguins can reduce fear responses of penguins by regulating both viewing proximity and visitor behaviour. However, it is unclear whether these changes in penguin behaviour are due to the increased separation between visitors and penguins and/or specific visitor behaviours associated with close viewing proximity to the enclosure, such as leaning over the enclosure or tactile contact with the pool, which are impeded when visitors are further away. View Full-Text
Keywords: little penguins; visitor–animal interactions; zoos; visitor effect little penguins; visitor–animal interactions; zoos; visitor effect
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Chiew, S.J.; Butler, K.L.; Sherwen, S.L.; Coleman, G.J.; Fanson, K.V.; Hemsworth, P.H. Effects of Regulating Visitor Viewing Proximity and the Intensity of Visitor Behaviour on Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) Behaviour and Welfare. Animals 2019, 9, 285.

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