Visitors to zoos make judgements about animal welfare on the basis of what they see during their visit. There has been a considerable amount of research and debate surrounding the use of enclosure style and/or animal behavior to act as indicators of animal welfare. There are assumptions, supported by some studies but contradicted by others, that naturalistic enclosures and the expression of “wild behavior” inherently promote good welfare. These assumptions also appear to be used by the public to judge the welfare of zoo-housed animals. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether visitors to Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, UK, were using these assumptions to judge the welfare of zoo-housed animals. Visitors (n=42) were shown two series of photographs (n=8 in each series), one representing different primate enclosure styles and one depicting different tiger behaviors. The visitors were asked to rank the photographs in response to a series of questions (n=4 primate enclosure; n=5 tiger behavior). The public were consistent in their assessment of enclosure styles, which confirmed they held the assumption that naturalistic enclosures are good; all respondents rated the greenest enclosure highly and thought its inhabitants would have the best welfare. The interpretation of captive tiger behavior was also consistent across respondents, but this did not clearly indicate that they thought wild behavior was good. Most respondents thought that tigers in captivity and in the wild performed similar behavior. However, they did not think that expression of wild-type behavior was indicative of good welfare in captivity.
Bibliographical notePublished on line - 28th April 2015
- animal welfare
- zoo visitor