For the benefit of animals kept in displays, science is now directing us to adopt a protocol of less invasive (aka obnoxious) behavior the next time we're at the zoo. This would actually be funny if it weren't to the point that it's so obviously needed.
Over the last decade or two we're regularly treated to the stupidity of zoo goers on the news. Taunting animals, throwing banned items into their enclosures, falling or jumping in with them . . . the list goes on and on.
Perhaps "etiquette" is a better word, but now that people behave more like monkeys than the monkeys themselves zoologists wish we'd straighten up and fly right. Why? Because we are unwittingly—at least in some cases—creating anxiety in the animals, and that's just not cool. Zoos work very hard to design environments that will give the animals the best possible experience for living in captivity, which isn't easy.
Negative Impacts on Animals
It doesn't take much to upset the balance. Just an increase in the number of visitors has been linked to higher levels of aggression in mandrills, mangabeys and cotton-top tamarins; more time spent on high alert among sika deer, gorillas and Soemmerring’s gazelles; an increase in stress hormones seen in spider monkeys, blackbuck and Mexican wolves; and more time hiding from the public by jaguars, orangutans and siamangs.
Excessive Noise Levels
Noise is another factor that is contributing to less than ideal settings within zoos. Think about it: incessant noise is known to be so grating that it's actually used in warfare as a form of torture. There are physiological and psychological implications to sound, especially when it's raised, and most animals have sensitive hearing. If hordes of people tramped through your yard daily blathering away at high decibels you'd be on edge, too.
Prolonged Eye Contact
In some cultures steady, direct eye contact is considered rude—and it isn't just humans that feel that way. Have you ever been to a gorilla enclosure and had them ignore you with their back turned to the viewing platform? That's because they're uncomfortable being stared at, and if the roles were reversed you wouldn't like it either. Chimps can feel the same way. That's because eye contact is a form of social communication among primates, and they may not appreciate the message you're sending.
What it boils down to is not behaving like an idiot (as an adult) when you're at the zoo. Don't shout, wave your hands or bang on glass or cages to get an animal's attention. Try and put yourself in their place. This is especially true of viewing new mothers and their young. Give them a break. If they're not receptive or willingly engaging with you, accept it and move on to the next exhibit. And for the animals' welfare, don't throw stuff in their exhibits. They're on strict diets and could choke on it.
Children at Zoos
Small children will not understand most of this. They get excited and run around pointing at everything, all the while shrieking with peels of laughter. That's understandable. But it's a good idea to teach children early on to respect wildlife. As soon as you realize your child is mature enough to start comprehending and retaining lessons in behavior, teach them the importance of good zoo etiquette. The animals stuck there will surely appreciate it.