Research
Popularity game

Research on zoo animals focuses more on ‘familiar’ species such as gorillas and chimpanzees, rather than less well known ones such as the waxy monkey frog, scientists say


Globally, fish and birds outnumber mammals, reptiles and amphibians in zoos, but a study by scientists at the University of Exeter in the UK says mammals are consistently the main focus of research on zoo-housed animals.

This ‘mammal bias’ also exists in wider research, including in the wild, but lead author of the Zoo Animal Research Skewed towards Popular Species study Dr Paul Rose says zoos offer wonderful opportunities to study other species.

The study looked at the last decade of research on zoo-housed animals, both by zoo staff and visiting scientists, and noted the growth and value of such studies.

“Some species, such as chimpanzees, are popular with scientists because we know a lot about them, they are accessible and humans can relate to them,” says Rose.

“As well as being found in zoos, many of these species are relatively easy to find and study in the wild. By contrast, it would be hard to find a waxy monkey frog in the rainforest to conduct your research.

Zoos offer a fantastic opportunity to study a vast range of species, many of which would be very difficult to observe in their natural habitat, adds Rose.

“Our findings can teach us about conversation, animal health and how best to house them in zoos. Despite the mammal bias, the output from zoo research has diversified and zoo animals are being used to answer a whole range of important scientific questions.”

The study also examined whether research on different animals tended to focus on different topics. “Lots of mammal studies are about animal welfare, which is great, but we should also research the welfare of fish, birds and anything else we keep in zoos,” Rose says.

“At the moment, we’re publishing on the same few species, rather than broadening our scope. Obviously we have lots to learn about every species, but opportunities to study many other zoo-housed animals are currently being missed.”

Ten years ago, published research identified the need for studies about a range of species beyond much-loved animals such as elephants and primates.

Source: University of Exeter. ‘Zoo animal research skewed towards ‘popular’ species’

More: www.attractionsmanagement.com/species

Study recommendations

The Exeter study reviewed zoo-based research in the decade since this recommendation and found:

• Zoo-focused research output increased from the start to the end of this study.

• Trends in species held by zoos do not reflect which species are studied.

• Zoo-based research makes meaningful contributions to science. For example, it led to ground-breaking insights into the reproductive biology of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino and bolstered conservation efforts.

• Researchers should diversify both the species chosen and the aims of studies to address ‘persisting research gaps’.

More inaccessible species, such as waxy monkey frogs, are harder to study / Eric Isselee shutterstock
Zoos and aquariums should broaden their collections Credit: Shutterstock/Pavel L Photo and Video
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
Issue 4 Volume 26

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Leisure Management - Popularity game

Research

Popularity game


Research on zoo animals focuses more on ‘familiar’ species such as gorillas and chimpanzees, rather than less well known ones such as the waxy monkey frog, scientists say

Gorillas are popular with scientists carrying out research Jeff W. Jarrett
Zoos and aquariums should broaden their collections Shutterstock/Pavel L Photo and Video

Globally, fish and birds outnumber mammals, reptiles and amphibians in zoos, but a study by scientists at the University of Exeter in the UK says mammals are consistently the main focus of research on zoo-housed animals.

This ‘mammal bias’ also exists in wider research, including in the wild, but lead author of the Zoo Animal Research Skewed towards Popular Species study Dr Paul Rose says zoos offer wonderful opportunities to study other species.

The study looked at the last decade of research on zoo-housed animals, both by zoo staff and visiting scientists, and noted the growth and value of such studies.

“Some species, such as chimpanzees, are popular with scientists because we know a lot about them, they are accessible and humans can relate to them,” says Rose.

“As well as being found in zoos, many of these species are relatively easy to find and study in the wild. By contrast, it would be hard to find a waxy monkey frog in the rainforest to conduct your research.

Zoos offer a fantastic opportunity to study a vast range of species, many of which would be very difficult to observe in their natural habitat, adds Rose.

“Our findings can teach us about conversation, animal health and how best to house them in zoos. Despite the mammal bias, the output from zoo research has diversified and zoo animals are being used to answer a whole range of important scientific questions.”

The study also examined whether research on different animals tended to focus on different topics. “Lots of mammal studies are about animal welfare, which is great, but we should also research the welfare of fish, birds and anything else we keep in zoos,” Rose says.

“At the moment, we’re publishing on the same few species, rather than broadening our scope. Obviously we have lots to learn about every species, but opportunities to study many other zoo-housed animals are currently being missed.”

Ten years ago, published research identified the need for studies about a range of species beyond much-loved animals such as elephants and primates.

Source: University of Exeter. ‘Zoo animal research skewed towards ‘popular’ species’

More: www.attractionsmanagement.com/species

Study recommendations

The Exeter study reviewed zoo-based research in the decade since this recommendation and found:

• Zoo-focused research output increased from the start to the end of this study.

• Trends in species held by zoos do not reflect which species are studied.

• Zoo-based research makes meaningful contributions to science. For example, it led to ground-breaking insights into the reproductive biology of the critically endangered Sumatran rhino and bolstered conservation efforts.

• Researchers should diversify both the species chosen and the aims of studies to address ‘persisting research gaps’.

More inaccessible species, such as waxy monkey frogs, are harder to study / Eric Isselee shutterstock

Originally published in Attractions Management Issue 4 Volume 26

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