Using a new behaviour tracking method, Anne Macaskill and colleagues show how tuataras’ behaviour changes during contact with visitors compared to time outside of visitor contact in a zoo.

Many zoos provide the opportunity for visitors to interact with ambassador animals in their collections, but little is known about how these interactions impact on the animals themselves. The current study was the first to examine the effect of visitor interactions on the reptile species, Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus).

This pilot project also developed the first complete ethogram describing tuatara behaviour (a permanent research resource).

The ethogram was customised for individually housed tuatara. Researchers used the ethogram to describe behaviour of three tuatara before (8:30–10:30), during (10:30–11:30) and after (11:30–15:30) visitor contact sessions (where visitors could interact with a tuatara and handler in a controlled environment), and on control days (at the same times but with no visitor contact).

The study found Tuatara demonstrated increased time out of sight or time inactive following visitor contact (compared to days with no visitor contact). The current study provides insight into individual variation between animals that participate in visitor contact sessions and can inform how zoos approach ambassador-animal programmes to support animal welfare.

To read the full study click here