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The Visitor Effect on Zoo Animals: Implications and Opportunities for Zoo Animal Welfare

1
Wildlife Conservation and Science, Zoos Victoria, Victoria, Melbourne 3052, Australia
2
The Animal Welfare Science Centre, the University of Melbourne, Victoria, Melbourne 3052, Australia
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(6), 366; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9060366
Received: 18 May 2019 / Revised: 9 June 2019 / Accepted: 10 June 2019 / Published: 17 June 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Human Influences on the Behaviour and Welfare of Zoo Animals)
Research has shown that an animal’s welfare is highly dependent on how various individual animal factors (e.g., species traits, genetics, temperament and previous experience) interact with environmental features (e.g., social grouping, enclosure design and sensory environment). One prominent feature of a zoo’s environment is the presence of visitors. Decades of research on the visitor effect in zoos has demonstrated that visitors can have negative, neutral or positive impacts on zoo animal behaviour and welfare. This paper reviews the literature on the implications and potential opportunities of human–zoo animal interactions on animal behaviour and welfare, with the aim of stimulating interest, understanding and exploration of this important subject.
Achieving and maintaining high standards of animal welfare is critical to the success of a modern zoo. Research has shown that an animal’s welfare is highly dependent on how various individual animal factors (e.g., species traits, genetics, temperament and previous experience) interact with environmental features (e.g., social grouping, enclosure design and sensory environment). One prominent feature of the zoo environment is the presence of visitors. Visitor contact can be unpredictable and intense, particularly in terms of auditory and visual interaction. Depending on an animal’s perception of this interaction, visitors can have either negative, neutral or positive impacts on zoo animal behaviour and welfare. This paper reviews the literature on the implications and potential opportunities of human-zoo animal interactions on animal behaviour and welfare, with the aim of stimulating interest, understanding and exploration of this important subject. The literature to date presents a mixed range of findings on the topic. It is possible this variation in the responses of zoo animals to visitors may be due to species-specific differences, the nature and intensity of the visitor interactions, enclosure design, and individual animal characteristics. Analysing these studies and better understanding animal preferences and motivations can provide insight into what animals find negatively and positively reinforcing in terms of visitor contact in a specific zoo setting. This understanding can then be applied to either safeguard welfare in cases where visitors can have a negative impact, or, conversely, it can be applied to highlight opportunities to encourage animal-visitor interaction in situations where animals experience positive emotions associated with visitor interaction. View Full-Text
Keywords: zoo animal welfare; animal behaviour; visitor effects; human-animal relationships; stress physiology zoo animal welfare; animal behaviour; visitor effects; human-animal relationships; stress physiology
MDPI and ACS Style

Sherwen, S.L.; Hemsworth, P.H. The Visitor Effect on Zoo Animals: Implications and Opportunities for Zoo Animal Welfare. Animals 2019, 9, 366.

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