Zoo Visitor Attitudes Are More Influenced by Animal Behaviour than Environmental Enrichment Appearance

Animals (Basel). 2021 Jun 30;11(7):1971. doi: 10.3390/ani11071971.


Decisions on environmental enrichment programmes are sometimes based on the assumption that non-natural or artificial looking items negatively affect visitor experiences. In this study, we developed a questionnaire to assess zoo visitor attitudes towards enrichment appearance in an outdoor walk-through enclosure for ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta). Naturalistic and artificial looking enrichment items were alternately provided in the enclosure. A total of 371 visitors filled out the questionnaire: 174 in the naturalistic and 197 in the artificial conditions. Both researchers and visitors conducted behavioural observations of the lemurs. Our results suggest that the appearance of the items did not have an effect on visitor attitudes and that visitors recognised both naturalistic and artificial items as enriching for the animals. Moreover, the behaviour and visibility of the lemurs had a greater effect on the visitors' attitudes. We suggest that during the design of enrichment items, less concern should be placed on the appearance of the items and more on their effect on animal behaviour. Ultimately, this would improve both animal welfare in captivity and the visitor experience.

Keywords: animal–visitor interactions; behaviour; captivity; enrichment; visitor; welfare; zoo-housed.