Behavioral Changes of Brown Bears (Ursus arctos) during COVID-19 Zoo Closures and Further Reopening to the Public

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Aleksei A Podturkin
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Visitor effect studies have been of keen interest for decades, but there have been only anecdotal opportunities to investigate the impact of the prolonged absence of visitors on animal welfare in zoos. In some zoos, bears are actively involved in animal–visitors interaction through begging, which gives them some degree of control over gaining food rewards throughout the day when visitors are present. Prolonged visitor absence may, therefore, represent a loss of control and have a negative impact on the bears’ welfare. In this study, we investigate the behavior of four brown bears (Ursus arctos) in three zoos to see how the animals’ behavior changed depending on the presence and absence of the public during zoo closures in 2020 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bears’ behavior was assessed using activity budget analysis and novel object tests. The results showed that the bears behavior varied between facilities and that there was no effect of visitor presence for the individuals who had access to indoor holding space. The results of the study are discussed in terms of choice and control and their impact on the wellbeing of bears in zoos.


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