Effect of Covering a Visitor Viewing Area Window on the Behaviour of Zoo-Housed Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Samantha J Chiew, Kym L Butler, Sally L Sherwen, Grahame J Coleman, Vicky Melfi, Alicia Burns, Paul H Hemsworth
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Studies on the effects of visitors on zoo animals have shown mixed findings and as a result, the manner in which visitors affect zoo animals remains unclear for many species, including a rarely studied taxa such as penguins. Penguins are a common zoo-housed species and have been shown to display huddling, vigilance and avoidance towards zoo visitors which can be indicative of fear. Here, we examined the effects of covering one visitor viewing area window, out of four, on little penguin (Eudyptula minor) behaviours that may be indicative of fear. Two treatments were randomly imposed on different days: (1) The main visitor viewing area window, where most visitor-penguin interactions occurred, was uncovered (‘Main window uncovered’) and (2) The main visitor viewing area window was covered (‘Main window covered’). Penguin numbers and behaviour were recorded near the main visitor viewing area window and the three other visitor viewing area windows, as well as one area not visible to visitors (‘Corner’ area). Furthermore, visitor numbers and visitor behaviour were recorded at all four visitor viewing area windows. Covering the main visitor viewing area window reduced the proportion of visitors present at this window by about 85% (p < 0.001) and reduced potentially threatening visitor behaviours at this window such as tactile contact with the window, loud vocalisations and sudden movement (p < 0.05). When the main visitor viewing area window was covered, the proportion of penguins present increased by about 25% (p < 0.05), the proportion of visible penguins preening in the water increased by about 180% (p < 0.05) and the proportion of visible penguins vigilant decreased by about 70% (p < 0.05) in the area near this main window. A preference for the Corner area was also found whereby 59% and 49% of penguins were present in this area when the main window was uncovered and covered, respectively. These results provide limited evidence that the little penguins in this exhibit showed an aversion to the area near the main visitor viewing area window when it was uncovered based on the increased avoidance and vigilance and decreased preening in the water in this area. This suggests visitors may be fear-provoking for these little penguins. However, it is unclear whether visual contact with visitors per se or other aspects of visitor contact, such as visitor-induced sounds and vibrations, were responsible for this apparent aversion when this window was uncovered.


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