Are we ignoring neutral and negative human-animal relationships in zoos?

Geoff Hosey, Vicky Melfi

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Human–animal interactions (HAI), which may lead to human–animal relationships (HAR), may be positive, neutral, or negative in nature. Zoo studies show that visitors may be stressful, may have no effect, or may be enriching. There is also evidence that good HARs set up between animals and their keepers can have positive effects on animal welfare. However, we need to know more about negative HARs, and as a first step we attempt to do this here by considering cases where animals attack people in the zoo. Due to the sensitivity and rarity of these events data appear sparse and unsystematically collected. Here, information available in the public domain about the circumstances of these attacks has been collated to test hypotheses about negative HAIs derived from a model of zoo HARs. The limited data presented here broadly support the zooHARmodel, and suggest that attacks usually happen in unusual circumstances, where there may be a failure by the animal to recognise the HAR, or where the relationship, if there is one, does not hold; and give some support to the prediction that exposure to many keepers may impair the development of a positive HAR. This study may provide useful information for the zoo community to proactively collect systematic standardised records, which will enable a fuller understanding of zoo HARs, upon which appropriate measures might be adopted to build better zoo HARs, which are likely to positively impact zoo animal welfare, and reduce these rare incidences further.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalZoo Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal attacks
  • Animal welfare
  • Keepers
  • Zoo visitors


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