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The impact of COVID-19 zoo closures on behavioural and physiological parameters of welfare in primates

Williams, E., Carter, A., Rendle, J., Fontani, S., Walsh, N.D., Armstrong, S., Hickman, S., Vaglio, S. and Ward, S.J. (2022) The impact of COVID-19 zoo closures on behavioural and physiological parameters of welfare in primates. Animals, 12 (13). Article 1622.

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Abstract

Primates are some of the most cognitively advanced species held in zoos, and their interactions with visitors are complex. The COVID-19 pandemic provided a unique opportunity to understand the impact of zoo visitors on animals, in comparison to “empty zoos”. This study sought to understand the impact of facility closures and subsequent reopenings on behavioural and physiological parameters of welfare in four primate species housed in the UK: bonobos (Pan paniscus) (n = 8), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) (n = 11), and western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) (n = 6) held at Twycross Zoo (TZ); and olive baboons (Papio anubis) (n = 192) held at Knowsley Safari (KS). Behavioural data were collected from April–September 2020 (KS) and November 2020–January 2021 (TZ). Faecal samples were collected during morning checks from October–November (TZ) and July–November 2020 (KS). Faecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGMs) were measured using ELISA kits. Statistical analysis for behavioural observations was undertaken using general linear models. Enclosure usage was assessed using t-tests and Mann–Whitney U-tests as appropriate. Bonobos and gorillas spent less time alone when facilities were open to the public (p = 0.004, p = 0.02 respectively). Gorillas spent less time resting when the facility was open to the public (p = 0.04), and chimpanzees engaged in more feeding (p = 0.02) and engagement with enrichment (p = 0.03) when the zoo was open to the public than when it was closed. Olive baboons performed less sexual and dominance behaviour and approached visitor cars more frequently when the safari park was opened to the public than they did the ranger’s vehicle during closure periods. There were no significant changes in physiological parameters for any of the study species. The results suggest variable impacts of the zoo closures on zoo-housed primates. We recommend future work that seeks to understand the impact of individual-level differences on “visitor effects” and that differences between animal experiences in zoos and safari parks are further explored in a range of species.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
Publisher: MDPI
Copyright: © 2022 by the authors
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/65558
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