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An exploration into the efficacy of public warning signs: a zoo case study

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Publication details

JournalPLoS ONE
DateAccepted/In press - 26 Oct 2018
DatePublished (current) - 9 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish


Unauthorised feeding and touching of the animals by visitors to zoos and wildlife parks pose serious threats to the health of both animals and visitors alike. We tested the efficacy of four different “do not feed” signs designed to prevent zoo visitors from feeding a group of meerkats. Signs consisted of one of two different written messages and imagery of either a pair of watching human eyes, or meerkat pawprints as a control. Covert observation of visitor behaviour in the presence and absence of the signs was analysed. Visitors were significantly less likely to feed the meerkats when signs were present, than when they were absent. The effect of the signs was specific to the targeted behaviour in that feeding was reduced, but attempts to touch the meerkats increased with the presence of the signs. We did not find that the presence of watching eyes or the different wording on the signs affected the likelihood of visitors feeding the meerkats. We also examined factors that influenced the likelihood of visitors attending to the signs. We found that children were more likely to attend to signs than adults which has important implications for the design of such signs. Together our findings show that signs are effective in reducing the unwanted behaviours they target but may also result in displacement of these negative behaviours and that children are more likely to attend to these signs than adults.

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© 2018 Parker et al.

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