Little penguins (Eudyptula minor), or Kororā in Māori, show variation in their behavioural responses towards zoo visitors in Australian zoos. We experimentally examined the effects of visitor presence on the behaviour and stress physiology of little penguins at Wellington Zoo, New Zealand. The two treatments were: (1) Visitor presence ? the exhibit was open to visitors; and (2) Visitor absence ? the exhibit was closed to visitors. We found that when the exhibit was closed to visitors, the percentage of penguins observed close to the visitor viewing pier increased from about 1% to 9%, but there was little effect on other behaviours and faecal glucocorticoid metabolite concentrations. This result of increased avoidance of the visitor viewing pier when the exhibit was open to visitors suggests close visitor contact, particularly from above, may be fear-provoking for these penguins. We conclude that designing enclosures to allow close viewing proximity of visitors, such as visitors looming over the pool, may be futile in improving visitor experience, since this species of penguins is likely to avoid these types of viewing areas when visitors are present. Visitors positioned close to and above penguins may be particularly problematic since visitors in this position may be perceived as threatening.
- Animal Science and Zoology