Research indicates that both the behaviour and welfare of zoo animals can be affected by the zoo environment. A major part of the environment for zoo animals is the regular presence of unfamiliar human visitors watching, and sometimes actively seeking interaction.
However the impact of such visitor presence and behaviour on zoo animals remains poorly understood. Understanding these visitor effects will provide opportunities to further enhance animal welfare, and maintain public support for zoos and their role in education and species conservation.
To improve our understanding of visitor effects on zoo animals through a range of correlation-based and experimental studies at Zoos Victoria properties.
Three studies will compare the behaviour and physiology of animals during busy visitor periods (i.e. school holidays) and non-busy visitor periods. Study species include free-ranging White Rhinoceros, Red Kangaroos in walk-through exhibits, and carnivores including Servals, Red Panda, tigers, Coatis and leopards.
Three more studies will experimentally alter the potential visitor impact on animals and compare their behaviour and physiology under these manipulated conditions with normal visitor conditions. These studies involve:
Primary researcher: Sally Sherwen (PhD candidate – University of Melbourne)
Participating organisations: Zoos Victoria; Animal Welfare Science Centre; University of Melbourne; University of Queensland; Australian Animal Welfare Strategy