The effects of environmental and visitor variables on the behavior of free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) in captivity

Courtney Collins, Ilse Corkery, Amy Haigh, Sean McKeown, Thomas Quirke, Ruth O'Riordan
Zoo Biology 2017, 36 (4): 250-260
The effect of the zoo environment on captive animals is an increasingly studied area of zoo research, with visitor effects and exhibit design recognized as two of the factors that can contribute to animal welfare in captivity. It is known that in some situations, visitors may be stressful to zoo-housed primates, and this may be compounded by environmental factors such as the weather, the time of day, and zoo husbandry routines. Exhibit design and proximity of the public are also known to influence behavioral response of primates to visitors; however, there is minimal research on free-ranging zoo animals, even though they are potentially subjected to intense interactions with visitors. The current study explores the effect of the zoo environment, several visitor variables and specific animal-visitor interactions on the behavior of free-ranging ring-tailed lemurs (Lemur catta) at Fota Wildlife Park, Ireland. Data were obtained through scan samples collected over 18 months (nā€‰=ā€‰12,263) and analyzed using a range of statistical tests, including general estimating equations (GEE). Results demonstrate that the free-ranging lemurs' behavior at Fota Wildlife Park is affected by season, weather and time of day. Similarities in feeding behavior exist between the free-ranging group and lemurs in the wild when resources are plentiful. Visitor variables had a limited effect on lemur behavior and behavioral diversity level. Lemurs rarely reacted to visitors when specific interactions were considered. Generally, the results indicate that the ring-tailed lemurs in this study have adapted well to the zoo environment and habituated to visitors.

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