Document Type


Date of Degree Completion

Spring 2019

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Primate Behavior

Committee Chair

Kara Gabriel

Second Committee Member

Lori K. Sheeran

Third Committee Member

David Orban


Zoos have missions to provide high-quality care for their animals and an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors. Looking at the animal-visitor interface can allow zoos to evaluate their success in these efforts and to build upon what they have already accomplished. The present study was conducted to investigate the relationship between visitors and gorillas in a zoo environment. The effect of gorilla proximity to visitor viewing areas on visitor attentiveness was examined in indoor and outdoor gorilla exhibits. Visitor experience surveys were collected from visitors exiting the outdoor exhibit. Stepwise multiple regressions revealed group and individual gorilla proximity effects on visitor attentiveness. Analyses revealed that visitor attentiveness increased as gorillas got closer to the viewing area. A family group of seven gorillas and one individual gorilla, a silverback in the same family group, consistently changed positions in response to increases in crowd size, positioning themselves farther away from the viewing area. Visitors answered more positively to survey items concerning their perception of the zoo’s gorillas when they also reported witnessing more active gorilla behaviors and showed increased concern about gorilla conservation efforts when they spoke to an employee or volunteer about gorillas. Zoos can use this information to design enclosures that promote more active behaviors in their gorillas and limit visitor effects from crowd size. Zoos can also provide volunteers or employees who can discuss gorillas and conservation issues. Combined, these measures may help zoos succeed in their missions by allowing visitors to have more enriching experiences while limiting any negative effects on the gorillas.



Available for download on Saturday, July 13, 2024