Animal Studies Bibliography

Kreger, Michael D. and Joy A. Mench. 1995. Visitor-Animal Interactions at the Zoo. Anthrozoos 8(3): 143-158.

The original purposes of zoos were to show urban dwellers animal life in the wild and a day of recreation, to provide a place for research, and sometimes to help preserve endangered wildlife. Things aren't much different today, when zoos have goals of education and conservation and visitors say they attend for a nice day out, particularly with children, and to be close to wild animals, a now-rare experience since the growth of urban centers. Critics argue that zoos work against conservation and educational goals by creating false stereotypes of animals (144). There are 4 major areas of human-animal interaction at zoos. First, animals are sometimes used in educational demonstrations. Historically, these demonstrations primarily involved animal performances, including anthropomorphizing measures like making them wear clothing or sit at tables. Some zoologists felt these measures helped illustrate animals' similarity to humans. Over the course of the century, such demonstrations were formalized, and now zoos often set guidelines to ensure that the animals are not demeaned nor anthropomorphized in ways that counteract the program's educational and conservationist messages by creating an impression of a pet-status of wild animals. The demonstrations continue, though, because they keep people's attention longer than other exhibits and thus provide a better forum to get the zoo's message across. The demonstrations have been shown to be weak at teaching factual information but good at increasing positive conservation attitudes. Second, animal rides are a popular attraction and good money-raiser. Problems with animal rides include danger (particularly with elephants) and the possibility that once again, the zoo's messages will be undercut by the image of circus-like domination (147) of the animals. Mainly due to the dangers, animal rides are generally being replaced by monorails and other systems that carry more people and are as popular. Third, public feedings are popular among visitors because it lets them create a relationship and interaction with an animal and because it means the animals will be moving around and therefore interesting. Popular and accepted by zoos until the 1970s, public feeding is now in disfavor, restricted because of animal deaths resulting from incorrect feeding, obesity among aggressive animals and undernourishment among shy ones, aggression among animals fighting for feeding, and injury to visitors doing the feeding. Further, without zookeeper commentary to the contrary, public feeding can encourage people to view the wild animals as pets. Fourth, children's zoos are another popular attraction and good money-raiser. They were created to let children have close contact with animals and to keep everything in a small space so children wouldn't get tired. Most have a farm theme but some are now switching to a wildlife or nature theme. These areas provide many opportunities for education, but the predominance of domestic animals may reinforce utilitarian attitudes about human use of animals, although children have these beliefs less than do adults. Children's zoos also offer a romantic version of farm life (as adult zoos offer romantic versions of animal life in the wild), and both would be improved by lessons about the realities of things like factory farming and disease. From the few studies that have been done about animal responses to visitor attention and performances, it appears that they can cause stress and disrupt normal behavioral patterns but are probably not too damaging. Training the animals, as long as it is done with positive reinforcement, can also be beneficial to them because it helps avoid animal boredom and the attendant self-abuse and abnormal behavior. Further, animals can be trained to accept routine vet procedures and other maintenance procedures (moving between cages, etc.), thereby reducing daily stress for both animal and trainer. Once again, this training may, however, undermine the zoo's main messages by reinforcing ideas of human domination of animals. Most zoo visitors (adults and children 12-14) are concerned about animal treatment and exploitation, and most oppose hunting for sport (154). People's attitudes and empathy for animals are often based on the animal their interact with most closely, which may be a problem for zookeepers trying to explain culling or other practices. Despite the many problems, human-animal interaction at the zoos also has many benefits--for example, contact with a live animal has been shown to significantly decrease negative attitudes toward that species. Empirical research is needed to ensure both animal welfare and the meeting of zoo's missions.




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