Visitor Effects on Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

Kirwen, Alison
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Understanding visitor effects is vital to successful husbandry of great apes. Considering the unique difficulties that come from housing bachelor groups of gorillas in zoos it is vital to be able to address any behavioral concerns brought about by complications of visitor effects. Five male western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) were observed at the St. Louis Zoo between June and July 2014. Data were collected on gorilla activity as well as interactions between visitors and the gorillas. Visitors were classified by their perceived size, age, gender, race, and the type of behavior they were participating in (innocuous, negative, or positive). Age was significantly related with rates of disruptive behaviors. Likewise, perceived race was significantly related to visitor behavior. Size was a significant factor in predicting the type of motivational behavior of a visitor. Sex was insignificant as a predictor of whether or not the individual will provoke a response from the gorilla. Visitors overwhelmingly participated in negative behaviors (i.e. knocking and yelling) for 56% of samples. Visitors also perpetuate heteronormative perspectives while they interpret the bachelor group’s familial makeup. In the future, improvements in education and marketing zoos as places of conservation instead of fun parks could create less disruptive patrons. With regard to animal husbandry, rotating which gorillas are on exhibit could help with the fission/fusion patterns of bachelor groups that are not being met in captive environments. Another possibility is using ambient, naturalistic sounds inside of the gorilla habitats to habituate their auditory expectations and, as such, reduce the effects of disruptive visitors.

Visitor Effects, Western Lowland Gorillas, Zoo Studies