Vol 8, Issue 4, November 2021

How Do You Behave at the Zoo? A Look at Visitor Perceptions of Other Visitors' Behavior at the Zoo


Muller, S. L., Bissell, S. L., Cunningham, K. M., & Strasser, R. (2021). How do you behave at the zoo? A look at visitor perceptions of other visitors’ behavior at the zoo. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 8(4), 619-631. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Previous research regarding behaviors of zoo visitors near exhibits has shown that they can influence animals’ well-being. What is unclear is whether people’s views concerning the purpose of zoos or their beliefs might influence their perception of what is acceptable behavior when visiting the zoo. In this study, we used naturalistic observation to examine zoo visitor behavior near specific exhibits. We also surveyed visitors regarding the purpose of zoos, their perception of animals and the zoo, and if they have seen inappropriate behavior in other zoo visitors. We observed visitors engaging in various inappropriate behaviors such as hitting the glass and trying to provoke the animals. These same inappropriate behaviors were also reported by visitors in our survey, indicating an awareness of what behaviors might be disruptive to animals. Visitors who reported similarities between humans and animals reported more inappropriate behaviors in others partially due to having more empathy for animals. When asked to consider the purpose of the zoo, education and conservation were ranked as being the most important, entertainment and research the least important priorities. However, of those who identified entertainment as most important, this group also reported humans to have less similarity with animals and reported less inappropriate behaviors in other visitors. Our findings suggest that zoo visitors’ views regarding the purpose of zoos and perceived human similarities to animals influence what they considered inappropriate behavior around captive zoo animals. This study provides the first exploration concerning the perception of visitors regarding other visitor behaviors directed towards zoo animals.


Zoo visitor effects, Human-animal relationships, Empathy, Conservation education, Entertainment