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Zoo visitor attitudes are more influenced by animal behaviour than environmental enrichment appearance

Tijdschriftbijdrage - Tijdschriftartikel

Simple Summary Environmental enrichment is a combination of techniques that aim to improve the quality of life of zoo animals. However, institutions might be reluctant to add certain enrichment items due to the belief that their presence could negatively affect the visitor experience in the zoo. To explore the veracity of this belief, we assessed visitor attitudes towards two types of enrichment items (naturalistic vs. artificial looking) in an outdoor walk-through enclosure for ring-tailed lemurs in Zoo Planckendael (Belgium). We developed a questionnaire that was answered by 371 visitors. We also took into consideration the behaviour of the animals and their visibility. We found that the visitor attitudes were more influenced by the behaviours displayed by the lemurs than the appearance of the enrichment items. We suggest that more emphasis should be placed on designing enrichment items that provide the animals with opportunities to display more active and appropriate behaviours, regardless of the appearance of the objects, in order to improve animal welfare while simultaneously improving the visitor experience. Decisions on environmental enrichment programmes are sometimes based on the assumption that non-natural or artificial looking items negatively affect visitor experiences. In this study, we developed a questionnaire to assess zoo visitor attitudes towards enrichment appearance in an outdoor walk-through enclosure for ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Naturalistic and artificial looking enrichment items were alternately provided in the enclosure. A total of 371 visitors filled out the questionnaire: 174 in the naturalistic and 197 in the artificial conditions. Both researchers and visitors conducted behavioural observations of the lemurs. Our results suggest that the appearance of the items did not have an effect on visitor attitudes and that visitors recognised both naturalistic and artificial items as enriching for the animals. Moreover, the behaviour and visibility of the lemurs had a greater effect on the visitors' attitudes. We suggest that during the design of enrichment items, less concern should be placed on the appearance of the items and more on their effect on animal behaviour. Ultimately, this would improve both animal welfare in captivity and the visitor experience.
Tijdschrift: Animals
ISSN: 2076-2615
Volume: 11
Trefwoorden:A1 Journal article