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CZAAWE Resource Article
Effect of felid activity on zoo visitor interest
Year of publication
Wiley Subscription Services, Inc., A Wiley Company
Abstract 10.1002/zoo.10115.abs The extent to which the presence of zoo visitors influences animal behavior, and the ways in which animal activity influences visitor interest and perception, are of great interest to zoological parks. Visitors have been variously characterized as being enriching for zoo animals, as being stressors, and generally as influencing behavior in measurable ways. Most studies have focused on primates, and have assumed a “visitor effect” paradigm (i.e., visitors influence animal behavior). Here we present findings from a study of a nonprimate group (felids), and examine the “visitor attraction” model, which assumes that visitors are attracted to active animals. We assessed visitor interest and number at seven cat exhibits at the Brookfield Zoo during the spring and summer of 2002. Data were collected during 1-min scans of each exhibit at 10-min intervals. The results indicate that visitor presence per se did not influence cat activity, and that visitor interest was generally greater when cats were active. Various species differences may be explained by visitor familiarity with the species, variations in exhibit design, and species-specific activity budgets. We conclude that the visitor attraction model may be more appropriate for taxa, such as large cats, that tend naturally to be largely inactive and to respond little (if at all) to visitor disturbances or efforts to engage. The relationship must be viewed as bidirectional: visitors influence animal behavior, and animal behavior influences visitor interest. However, the strength and primary direction of this relationship is likely taxon-specific. We suggest that a visitor attraction model may be more appropriate not only for felids, but for other taxa with similar behavioral patterns and responses as well. Zoo Biol 22:587–599, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.