Effects of Regulating Visitor Viewing Proximity and the Intensity of Visitor Behaviour on Little Penguin ( Eudyptula minor ) Behaviour and Welfare

Samantha J Chiew, Kym L Butler, Sally L Sherwen, Grahame J Coleman, Kerry V Fanson, Paul H Hemsworth
Animals: An Open Access Journal From MDPI 2019 May 28, 9 (6)
We examined the effects of regulating the viewing proximity of visitors and the intensity of visitor behaviour on behaviours indicative of fear and stress physiology of 15 zoo-housed little penguins ( Eudyptula minor ) . A 2 × 2 factorial fully randomised design was used to examine the effects of regulating: 1) the viewing proximity of visitors to enclosure, 'normal viewing distance' and 'increased viewing distance' (using a physical barrier set up 2 m away from the enclosure), and 2) the intensity of visitor behaviour, 'unregulated visitor behaviour' and 'regulated visitor behaviour' (using signage and uniformed personnel). In addition, a treatment consisting of closing the enclosure to visitors was included. Penguin behaviour, visitor numbers and visitor behaviour were recorded by CCTV video recordings and direct observations, respectively. Penguin faecal glucocorticoid metabolites were also analysed as a measure of stress physiology. We found that increased viewing distance reduced ( p < 0.05) all visitor behaviours except for loud vocalisations and tactile contact with penguins. However, there were no direct effects of signage and uniformed personnel on visitor behaviour ( p > 0.05). As the regulation of viewing proximity increased from a closed exhibit to an open exhibit with increased viewing distance, and then to an open exhibit with normal viewing distance, this increased the proportion of penguins huddling ( p = 0.0011), vigilant ( p = 0.0060) and retreating ( p = 0.00013), and decreased the proportion of penguins within 1 m of the visitor viewing area ( p = 0.00066), surface swimming ( p = 0.00091) and preening in the water ( p = 0.042). There were also limited effects of regulating visitor behaviour on penguin behaviour. No treatment effects were found on faecal glucocorticoid metabolites ( p > 0.05). These results indicate that regulating visitor viewing proximity affects penguin behaviours indicative of fear and visitor behaviour. This suggests that close visitor contact can be fear-provoking for little penguins but increasing the distance between visitors and penguins can reduce fear responses of penguins by regulating both viewing proximity and visitor behaviour. However, it is unclear whether these changes in penguin behaviour are due to the increased separation between visitors and penguins and/or specific visitor behaviours associated with close viewing proximity to the enclosure, such as leaning over the enclosure or tactile contact with the pool, which are impeded when visitors are further away.

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