Assessing the potential impact of zoo visitors on the welfare and cognitive performance of Japanese macaques

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Sarah M Huskisson, Christina R Doelling, Stephen R Ross, Lydia M Hopper
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
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The influence of visitors on zoo-housed primate behavior and welfare is relatively well-studied but less is known about the possible impact of zoo visitor presence on primates’ cognition. The Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) at Lincoln Park Zoo, USA, participate in voluntary cognitive research sessions in two touchscreen testing booths adjacent to their home enclosure, which are in view of the public. As other anthropogenic influences, such as loud noise levels, have been shown to induce attention bias effects in zoo primates, we wanted to determine if visitors also created cognitive bias effects for these macaques. Therefore, we sought to evaluate if and how the macaques’ testing participation and performance changed in response to the presence and number of visitors, and what any changes might mean for their welfare. Taking advantage of the zoo’s closure in response to COVID-19, we conducted 10 test sessions when the zoo was closed and 10 test sessions after reopening. Across all 20 test sessions, we recorded ambient sound levels (dB) and, when visitors were present, we also recorded visitor numbers and their location near the exhibit. Between when the zoo was closed and open, we did not find a difference in the macaques’ participation rates (p = 0.45) or task accuracy (p = 0.62) in an identity match-to-sample paradigm. However, we found the macaques’ response latencies were significantly faster when the zoo re-opened (p < 0.001) and with visitors present, but that the macaques did not avoid the testing booth that was closer to visitors. Considering the number of visitors, we found that the macaques completed most of their trials when small crowds were present (1–20 visitors) – the most common crowd size we recorded – but the macaques’ task accuracy did not differ across crowd size categories. Based on our findings, we found no clear evidence that these macaques were impacted by the return of zoo visitors and remain confident that such voluntary touchscreen opportunities can be an engaging aspect of animal lives in zoo settings.


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