The Effect of Visitors on Zoo Reptile Behaviour during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Kimberley C Carter, Isabel AT Keane, Lisa M Clifforde, Lewis J Rowden, Léa Fieschi-Méric, Christopher J Michaels
Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens
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Visitors to zoos can have positive, neutral, or negative relationships with zoo animals. This makes human–animal interactions (HAIs) an essential component of welfare and an important consideration in species selection for zoo exhibits and in enclosure designs. We measured the effect of visitors on reptiles by comparing open and closed periods during the lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK in a low-resolution dataset for thirteen species of reptiles and a high-resolution dataset focussing on just one of these. Scan sampling on thirteen reptile species (two chelonians and eleven squamates) showed species-specific differences in response to the presence/absence of visitors, with most taxa being only weakly affected. High-resolution scan sampling via video footage of an off-show and on-show enclosure was carried out for tokay geckos (Gekko gecko) over the open and closed periods. In this part of the study, tokay geckos were significantly more visible during zoo closure than when visitors were present on-exhibit, but there was no change in off-show animals, indicating the effect of visitors as opposed to other factors, such as seasonality, which applied equally to both on- and off-show animals. The high-resolution study showed that a significant effect was present for tokay geckos, even though the low-resolution suggested that they were more weakly affected than other taxa. Our results indicate that, for cryptic species such as this, more intensive sampling may be required to properly understand visitor effects. Our data do not allow the interpretation of effects on welfare but show that such assessments require a species-specific approach.


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