The effect of the zoo setting on the behavioural diversity of captive gentoo penguins and the implications for their educational potential

  • Courtney Keane Collins University College Cork
  • Thomas Quirke
  • Louise Overy
  • Kevin Flannery
  • Ruth O’Riordan


Investigations into the effect of the captive environment on zoo and aquarium-housed animals is now a well-established area of research, yet little attention is given to the effect of these animals on zoo visitors. It has been suggested that some animals have a greater ability to attract and thus educate visitors, but there is a dearth of information in this area. Furthermore, before a captive species’ educational potential can be determined, its response to the zoo environment should be investigated to ensure its welfare. The current study first considered the effect of visitor presence and environmental enrichment on the behavioural diversity levels of aquarium-housed gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua), with particular attention given to pool-use and nesting behaviour. Then, based on the animals’ response to the visitors and enrichment, we consider the educational potential of the penguin group. Data were obtained through scan samples taken throughout the breeding season. Results indicate that visitor number affects behavioural diversity levels, with higher numbers of visitors associated with greater behavioural diversity and pool use by penguins. However, neither visitor behaviour nor enrichment appeared to affect behavioural diversity. Nesting behaviour was not affected by any of the variables that were tested. Based on these results we conclude that the penguins at this aquarium have a high educational potential. The results of this study suggest that future research should consider the use of interactive enrichment and how captive penguins may further enhance visitor learning.

Author Biography

Courtney Keane Collins, University College Cork
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Science - PhD Student