Feeding live prey to zoo animals: response of zoo visitors in Switzerland

Lauren Cottle, Dan Tamir, Mimoza Hyseni, Dominique B├╝hler, Petra Lindemann-Matthies
Zoo Biology 2010, 29 (3): 344-50
In summer 2007, with the help of a written questionnaire, the attitudes of more than 400 visitors to the zoological garden of Zurich, Switzerland, toward the idea of feeding live insects to lizards, live fish to otters, and live rabbits to tigers were investigated. The majority of Swiss zoo visitors agreed with the idea of feeding live prey (invertebrates and vertebrates) to zoo animals, both off- and on-exhibit, except in the case of feeding live rabbits to tigers on-exhibit. Women and frequent visitors of the zoo disagreed more often with the on-exhibit feeding of live rabbits to tigers. Study participants with a higher level of education were more likely to agree with the idea of feeding live invertebrates and vertebrates to zoo animals off-exhibit. In comparison to an earlier study undertaken in Scotland, zoo visitors in Switzerland were more often in favor of the live feeding of vertebrates. Feeding live prey can counter the loss of hunting skills of carnivores and improve the animals' well-being. However, feeding enrichments have to strike a balance between optimal living conditions of animals and the quality of visitor experience. Our results show that such a balance can be found, especially when live feeding of mammals is carried out off-exhibit. A good interpretation of food enrichment might help zoos to win more support for the issue, and for re-introduction programs and conservation.

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