AboutZoos, Since 2008


How to behave at a zoo – accord­ing to science

pub­lished 11 Novem­ber 2017 | mod­i­fied 13 Novem­ber 2017

This arti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished on logo the conversation

By Saman­tha Ward , Lec­turer Zoo Ani­mal Biol­ogy, Not­ting­ham Trent University

berlintierpark9In Octo­ber mil­lions around the world will head to their local zoo to indulge in the Hal­loween activ­i­ties and get a lit­tle fresh autum­nal air in the pres­ence of some extra­or­di­nary ani­mals. At this time of year, the ani­mals are still won­der­fully active and there’s plenty to see and do. But there are cer­tain things you should be doing as a vis­i­tor to ensure that the ani­mals are able to act as nat­u­rally as pos­si­ble within their environments.

With advances in zoo enclo­sure design, there are now more oppor­tu­ni­ties for you to get up close and per­sonal with the more excit­ing ani­mals, with walk-​through exhibits and ani­mal feed­ing ses­sions. In zoos, ani­mal wel­fare research is car­ried out fre­quently to ensure the ani­mals’ lives in cap­tiv­ity are at their best — and we now under­stand the impacts that human-​animal inter­ac­tions have on the ani­mals housed in them.

Research has shown that zoo ani­mals are able to tell the dif­fer­ence between unfa­mil­iar (vis­i­tors) and famil­iar (keep­ers) peo­ple and that, in some cases, vis­i­tors can have a neg­a­tive impact on them. For exam­ple, increased vis­i­tor num­bers have been asso­ci­ated with increased lev­els of aggres­sion in man­drills, mangabeys, and cotton-​top tamarins (mon­keys), more time spent alert towards vis­i­tors in sika deer, goril­las and Soemmerring’s gazelle, less time vis­i­ble to the pub­lic in jaguars, orang-​utans and sia­mangs, and increased stress hor­mones (glu­co­cor­ti­coid con­cen­tra­tions) in spi­der mon­keys, black­buck and Mex­i­can wolves. This can be man­aged by respon­si­ble zoos, but every­one must play their part.

Research has also shown us that keeper-​animal inter­ac­tions have a pos­i­tive impact on the ani­mals’ behav­iour. This should always be kept in mind.

The fol­low­ing tips will help ensure that you don’t dis­turb the ani­mals and have a neg­a­tive impact on their behaviour.

What you need to know
There is grow­ing evi­dence to show that exces­sive noise lev­els cause stress in ani­mals and so when you are around the ani­mals in their enclo­sures, try to be as quiet as possible.

Many ani­mals, includ­ing great apes, such as goril­las and chim­panzees, are also extremely recep­tive to eye con­tact as it is a form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between indi­vid­u­als within the social group. This may make them sit with their backs turned — and can make them less likely to engage with you. Try not to stare at the ani­mals if they are fac­ing you — and avoid shout­ing or bang­ing the glass to get their atten­tion. Respect the animal’s pri­vacy and space.

Penguin enclosure at Paris ZooPen­guins and chil­dren at Paris Zoo. Who is going to pre­vent them bang­ing on the glass?
pho­tog­ra­phy & copy­right MoosMood

Ani­mals in the wild are always more cau­tious when they have young. In zoos, baby ani­mals are very pop­u­lar, which encour­ages more vis­i­tors and height­ened reac­tions from the crowds. Cur­rently, there is no research inves­ti­gat­ing the impacts of vis­i­tors on the mother-​infant rela­tion­ship but it is cru­cial to respect the ani­mals even more just in case there are neg­a­tive implications.

The ani­mals are likely used to their enclo­sure and the con­tin­u­ous stream of vis­i­tors sur­round­ing it, so they might not notice you as an indi­vid­ual. But this does not mean that you should try to encour­age them to do so by throw­ing food or other objects into the enclo­sure that have not been pro­vided by the zoo keep­ers. These can cause the ani­mals seri­ous dietary prob­lems. Zoo ani­mals are on a care­fully mea­sured and spe­cific diet and other food can be detri­men­tal to their health and welfare.

Though some zoos pro­vide alter­na­tives for the inter­ac­tion between ani­mal and man [Moos]

Safety first
Health and safety in zoos is para­mount. The bar­ri­ers and win­dows are there for both your and the ani­mals’ pro­tec­tion. Zoos now use a vari­ety of designs so that you can view the ani­mals clearly and take good pho­tos — but if you can­not, never scale the bar­ri­ers or reach out to the ani­mals and avoid plac­ing chil­dren on or over fences. There are a sur­pris­ingly high num­ber of injuries, and worse, due to this each year — zoo ani­mals are never tame and should never be treated as such.

Good zoos cre­ate edu­ca­tional and engag­ing sig­nage to edu­cate you dur­ing your visit. The signs may be for health and safety rea­sons or to enable you to learn about the ani­mals in front of you, their wild envi­ron­ment and their con­ser­va­tion sta­tus. Sig­nage may also be there to tell you about par­tic­u­lar ani­mals who may be shy or ner­vous or to inform you of research being under­taken. Please pay atten­tion to the sig­nage — it will help ensure that you get the most out of your visit.

Stick to these rules and you can be sure that your trip to the zoo will be ben­e­fi­cial to the ani­mals, you and your fam­ily. Zoo ani­mals are mostly now all cap­tive bred and so are used to being housed in their enclo­sures and being pro­vided for by their keep­ers. It is your job as a vis­i­tor to respect this, the ani­mals and their homes to ensure that your own behav­iour does not neg­a­tively affect the ani­mals liv­ing there on your visit.

(Source: The Con­ver­sa­tion, 17.10.2017)

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Tiger map” (CC BY 2.5) by Sander­son et al., 2006.

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