Impacts of COVID-19 on Animals in Zoos: A Longitudinal Multi-Species Analysis

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Ellen Williams, Anne Carter, Jessica Rendle, Samantha J Ward
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Prolonged and repetitive COVID-19 facility closures have led to an abrupt cessation of visitors within UK and Irish zoos for variable periods since March 2020. This study sought to increase understanding of the impact of closures and reopenings on animal behaviour, thereby broadening understanding of whether zoo animals habituate to visitors. Data were collected from June to August 2020 at two UK facilities on eight species (n = 1 Chinese goral, n = 2 Grevy’s zebra, n = 11 swamp wallaby, n = 2 Rothschild’s giraffe, n = 2 nyala, n = 4 Chapman’s zebra, n = 2 snow leopard and n = 3 Amur leopard). Behaviour change and enclosure use was variable across species but most changes were non-significant. Grevy’s zebra engaged in more comfort behaviour during closure periods than post-closure (p < 0.05). Chinese goral engaged in more environmental interactions during closure periods (p < 0.05). Grevy’s zebra spent longer than would be expected by chance closest to public viewing areas during closure periods (p < 0.008). These results suggest variable impacts of covid-19 closures and reopenings, mirroring human-animal interaction literature. We highlight the potential for some species to take longer to re-habituate to the presence of zoo visitors. As facility closures/reopenings are ongoing, we advocate a longitudinal monitoring approach. Furthermore, we recommend incorporation of physical and physiological measures of welfare where possible, alongside behavioural responses, to enable a holistic approach to answering fundamental questions on whether zoo animals habituate to visitors.


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