Elephants enjoy the presence of zoo visitors, according to a new study.
Animal behaviour experts at Nottingham Trent University and Harper Adams University looked at more than 100 research papers examining how visitors affected the behaviour of more than 250 species in zoos.
They found that elephants socialised more with each other during public feeding times while after public feeding times, they were more likely to forage and less likely to be inactive.
They were also less likely to use repetitive behaviours, which often indicate boredom, in the presence of many visitors.
Visitors had a similar effect on some other species too, including penguins, jaguars, grizzly bears, polar bears, cheetahs, servals, banteng, cockatoos and black-tailed prairie dogs.
Dr Samantha Ward, a zoo animal welfare scientist at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said: “Some animal species have been born and raised in zoos and so have likely become used to the presence of humans.
“Zoo visitors are often aspects of a zoo animal’s environment that animals cannot control and as such can be stressful, although some species appear to show good adaptability for the changing conditions of visitors.
“There can be a lot of variation in stimuli from visitors in terms of their behaviour, the noise they make and the way they interact with the animals.
“We have identified that species show varied responses to people in zoos – some cope well, others not so well.”
Among the animals that didn’t cope so well were flightless birds, odd and even-toed ungulates, marsupials, ostriches, tuatara and hedgehogs.
Dr Ellen Williams, a zoo animal welfare scientist at Harper Adams University, said: “We have robust methods to measure animal welfare in zoos.
“Animal responses are attributed to various factors, and recognising what these may be is important to improve welfare.
“In elephants and birds it was encouraging to see a reduction in those repetitive behaviours towards something more positive in the presence of people, although the absence of change in the majority of species was also really good, because it suggests enclosure design is changing to better support animals in responding to visitors.”
The research is published in the journal Animals.
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