The Welfare of Domestic Goats (Capra hircus) in a Zoo-Based Animal-Visitor Interaction Program

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Ramont, M., Leahy M., Cronin, K.A.
Animal Behavior and Cognition
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We investigated whether the welfare of domestic goats in an animal-visitor interaction experience at a zoo was affected by the presence and behavior of visitors. We considered how the number of visitors in the goats’ habitat and visitor proximity to the goats impacted goat behavior. We also considered the goats’ behavior toward visitors, use of retreat space, and whether the visitors’ interaction style, specifically, how the visitors groomed the goats, was predictive of changes in the goats’ behavior. We conducted 29 hr of focal follows on 7 domestic goats (Capra hircus) at Lincoln Park Zoo, and analyzed data using mixed effects models. We found that goats preferred to be in the visitor yard as visitor numbers increased, and goat behaviors did not change as visitor numbers increased to the maximum allowed (16 people). There were no differences in rates of conspecific aggression or affiliation based on visitor presence or visitor interactions. However, there was a decrease in feeding and increase in self-maintenance behaviors specifically while visitors were in close proximity and interacting with goats. Furthermore, visitor-directed behavior, specifically head tossing, was more common when visitors groomed goats in an improper way. Overall, this study demonstrates that domestic goat welfare was relatively unaffected by the simple presence of visitors when maximum visitor limits were in place and retreat options were available, but that goats were sensitive to visitor interaction styles. These findings support the idea that domestic goats may be appropriate candidates for human-visitor interaction programs under specific conditions.


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