Keeper-animal interactions: Differences in stockmanship affect zoo animal behaviour — ASN Events

Keeper-animal interactions: Differences in stockmanship affect zoo animal behaviour (#339)

Samantha J Ward 1 , Vicky Melfi 2
  1. Nottingham Trent University, Southwell, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE, United Kingdom
  2. Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Sydney, Australia

Stockmanship is a term used to describe the management of livestock in a safe, effective, and low-stress manner for both the stock-keeper and animals involved. Although impacts of unfamiliar zoo visitors on animal behaviour have been extensively studied, the impact of stockmanship i.e familiar zoo keepers is a new area of research; which could reveal significant ramifications for zoo animal behaviour and welfare. It is likely that different relationships are formed dependant on the unique keeper-animal dyad (human-animal interaction, HAI). The aims of this study were to (1) investigate if unique keeper-animal dyads were formed in zoos, (2) determine whether keepers differed in their interactions towards animals (stockmanship style), (3) explore what factors affect keeper-animal dyads and ultimately influence animal behaviour and welfare. 

Eight black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), eleven Chapman’s zebra (Equus burchellii), and twelve Sulawesi crested black macaques (Macaca nigra) were studied in 6 zoos across the UK and USA. Subtle cues and commands directed by keepers towards animals were identified, the animals latency to respond and the respective behavioural response (cue-response) was recorded per keeper-animal dyad (n=93). A questionnaire was constructed following a five-point Likert scale design to record keeper demographic information and assess the job satisfaction of keepers’ their attitude towards the animals and their perceived relationship with them.

There was a significant difference in the animals’ latency to appropriately respond after cues and commands from different keepers for all three species for at least one of the cues, indicating unique keeper-animal dyads were formed. Stockmanship style was also different between keepers and an exploratory factor analysis outlined two main components which contributed equally towards this which were “attitude towards the animals” and “knowledge and experience of the animals”.  Data demonstrated unique dyads were formed between keepers and zoo animals, which influenced animal behaviour and that keepers can influence these behaviours by their own actions. It also poses future research questions which will be discussed.