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Book: Zoo Animal Learning and Training (Melfi et al., 2020)

January 10, 2020

About this book: This accessible, up-to-date book on animal training in a zoo/aquaria context provides a unified approach to zoo animal learning, bringing together the art and science of animal training. Written by experts in academia and working zoos, it incorporates the latest information from the scientific community along with current best practice, demystifying the complexities of training zoo animals. In doing so, it teaches readers how to effectively train animals and to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

Zoo Animal Learning and Training starts with an overview of animal learning theory. It describes the main categories of animal learning styles; considers the diverse natural history of zoo animals; reviews the research undertaken which demonstrates ultimate benefits of learning; and highlights the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches. It also shows how the direct application of learning theory can be integrated into zoo animal management; discusses how other factors might affect development; and investigates situations and activities from which animals learn. It also explores the theoretical basis that determines whether enrichments are successful.

Implications of human-animal interactions on mother-calf interactions in a Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) dyad (Welsh & Ward, 2019)

November 11, 2019

Abstract: Studies on human-animal interactions (HAIs) in zoos focus on the influence of familiar (keepers) or unfamiliar (visitors) humans on the animals. Limited research focusses on the familiar HAI and is yet to investigate the impact of familiar HAIs on mother-calf interactions, a topic yet to be explored in any species. The Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) has been bred and trained in captivity for years and therefore provides scope to investigate the impact that familiar HAIs can have on mother-calf interactions. This study aimed to compare the dolphin-dyadic interactions before, during and after a training session. A single mother-calf dyad was observed for 50 hours at Mundomar dolphinarium, Spain. Instantaneous focal samples recorded the mother-calf interactions exhibited before, during and after HAI. The HAI category (medical, training, gating, separation and presentation) was also recorded. A Friedman Two-Way ANOVA and Related-Samples Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test showed no negative implications of HAI on mother-calf interactions, with ‘suckling’ observed significantly more after HAI and ‘not-interacting’ seen significantly less. HAI category found that dolphin interactions were seen more after medical interactions than other categories. Results suggest that the HAIs are encouraging increased interactions between the mother-offspring dyad and therefore suggests that the effect of HAIs is having a positive impact on dolphin mother and calf interactions. This study has provided a first step in assessing the impacts of positive HAI, in the form of training, on the development of the mother-calf relationship and given scope for further research in this area.

Photo credit: Mundomar Benidorm

A Protocol for the Ethical Assessment of Wild Animal–Visitor Interactions (AVIP) Evaluating Animal Welfare, Education, and Conservation Outcomes (de Mori et al., 2019)

September 09, 2019

Simple Summary: Animal–visitor interactions are the experiences offered by zoos, sanctuaries, and other tourism facilities in which people can be very close, and even touch, wildlife. This proximity could damage animal welfare and be a risk for the health of both animals and visitors. Proximity, however, has a positive emotional impact on visitors, representing an excellent opportunity to communicate conservation and educational messages. We present a protocol to evaluate interaction activities, and describe its application in a “giraffe feeding” interaction evaluation. Behavioral observations and a risk assessment evaluated the impact on animals. A risk assessment related to both visitors and staff and a questionnaire investigated the risks for people and the emotional, educational, and conservation outcomes. An ethical analysis, using an ethical matrix and a checklist, integrated the results, and identified the possible ethical concerns of the interaction. Giraffes’ behavioral freedom and welfare were safeguarded, and a positive emotional and conservation oriented impact was found, the only improvement that could be suggested, in case of restructuring of the facility, being the absence of hand washing facilities after the interaction. The protocol showed its potentiality to protect animal welfare and human health and to promote an ethical use of the interactions.

Are "visitor effects" overestimated? Behaviour in captive lemurs is mainly driven by co-variation with time and weather (Goodenough et al., 2019)

August 05, 2019

Abstract: The potential influence of visitors on behaviour of captive animals is well known. However, little research on “visitor effects” has also evaluated time of day and weather, which can affect behaviour directly and often also co-vary with visitor numbers. Here, visitor effects on captive ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) are examined in a walk-through enclosure, where potential for visitor effects is especially high, while specifically considering weather and time of day (between 10:00 hr when lemurs were released into their outdoor enclosure and 16:00 hr when  then returned to overnight accommodation).Time, weather and visitor variables interacted in complex ways, but time and weather exerted the strongest effect on behaviour. Weather strongly affected resting, feeding/foraging, and locomotion. Sunbathing was highest in mornings; locomotion increased in afternoons. Visitor numbers were negatively associated with feeding/foraging and sunbathing; visitor activity was positively associated with locomotion and alertness. Crucially, however, visitor effects were small both overall and in relation to underlying effects of time/weather. Univariate models suggested visitors accounted for ~20% of behavioural variation; after time/weather had been included this dropped to ~6–8%. The study concludes that underlying visitor:time and visitor:weather correlations can lead to overestimation of visitor effects and offers recommendations for future work.

The Visitor Effect on Zoo Animals: Implications and Opportunities for Zoo Animal Welfare (Sherwen & Hemsworth, 2019)

June 16, 2019

Abstract: 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.

Photo credit: Memphis Zoo

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