• Zoo-housed mammals do not avoid giving birth on weekends

      Hosey, Geoff; Ward, Samantha J; Ferguson, Amanda; Jenkins, Hannah; Hill, Sonya P; University of Bolton; Nottingham Trent University; ZSL London Zoo; North of England Zoological Society; University of Chester
      There is evidence that zoo visitor presence can influence the behavior and, in some cases, adrenal response of zoo animals, and can sometimes compromise animal welfare. In some laboratory studies, significantly more primate births have been reported on weekends, when fewer people are working there, compared with weekdays when staffing levels are at their highest. Here we investigate whether there is evidence of a “weekend effect” on births in zoo animals as a result of visitor numbers. Unlike laboratories, zoos are typically busier with visitors on weekends than on weekdays, although staffing levels remain fairly consistent across days of the week. If zoo animal parturition is sensitive to human presence, then fewer births would be expected on weekends compared with weekdays. We tested this using birth data and visitor numbers on the entrance gate from zoo records across 16 species representing artiodactyls, perissodactyls, carnivores and primates at four British zoos, to see whether there is an association between mean daily birth rates and average visitor numbers. We predict that, if there is a visitor effect, daily births should be lower on weekends than weekdays and should correlate with mean daily visitor numbers. Results showed that births for all 16 species were randomly distributed through the week, and there was no significant decline in births on weekends. We conclude that the ‘weekend effect’, if such a thing exists, does not appear to be a feature of zoo births, suggesting that elevated weekend visitor numbers are not sufficiently stressful to trigger delayed parturition.