The influence of a camouflage net barrier on the behaviour, welfare and public perceptions of zoo-housed gorillas
Visitors to zoos can be a potential source of stress to captive-housed primates, resulting in increased abnormal behaviour and intra-group aggression. Finding a way to screen primates from human visitors may be one method of decreasing stress and enhancing animal welfare. For this study, the behaviour of six zoo-housed gorillas was studied for one month during standard housing conditions (control condition) and for a further month following the installation of a camouflage net barrier to the viewing area of the exhibit (barrier condition). Visitors' (n = 200) perceptions of the animals and the exhibit were also recorded during each condition. The net barrier had a significant effect on some components of the gorillas' behaviour. The gorillas exhibited significantly lower levels of conspecific-directed aggression and stereotypic behaviours during the barrier than the control condition. The net barrier also had a slight effect on visitors' perceptions both of the animals and of their exhibit. The gorillas were considered to look more exciting and less aggressive during the barrier than the control condition. The exhibit was also considered to be more appropriate for visitors following the introduction of the camouflage netting. Overall, the addition of a screen such as camouflage netting could be considered a positive change, resulting in a reduction in those behaviours typically induced by large groups of visitors and an improvement in public perceptions of the animals and their environment.
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