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What makes an animal interesting to you?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by Zygodactyl, 4 Dec 2017.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    I think most ZooChatters get annoyed about the focus zoos place on a few charismatic species, which is why we complain about "ABC animals" and also why I just got defensive when Batto called me out for not taking time to sit and wait for snakes to move (and I'm still not going to do that), but I think most or all of us have animals we skip over and animals we could spend hours watching.

    So I've been thinking about what makes animals interesting to me (since my last visit to San Antonio, actually, when I decided to pretty much only go to the animals that most interested me and skip the ones that I found less interesting) and I think that an animal has to meet at least one of the following criteria for me to spend more than a few seconds looking at it, and several for me to spend any length of time watching it.
    1. Adorablility: Do I want to pet, scritch, and/or cuddle it?
    2. Rarity: Is it something I haven't seen before or haven't seen in a long time?
    3. Oddity: Is it unusual taxonomically and/or behaviorally?
    4. Activity: Does it move around a lot?
    5. Sociability: Does it have a complex social system?
    Number five is particularly important for me. I may spend a good deal of time watching a rarity the first or second time I see it, but I'll keep coming back to the dwarf mongooses and guira cuckoos at the San Antonio Zoo or the raven at the Austin Nature and Science Center. Part of it's knowing that these animals are social, but only part of it. Complex social behavior is linked to curiosity and intelligence, and animals with complex social behavior tend to act interested in me. I didn't know guiras were social animals when I first saw them, but I spent a lot of time watching them because they spent a lot of time watching me.

    However it's not necessary for an animal to be social to evoke this reaction. I'm usually not interested in large carnivorans apart from spotted hyenas (social animals again), however when the cougar at the Austin Zoo came up to me as I was walking casually past, it took my breath away and I stopped to watch it. It was probably just patrolling its territory, but in seeming to take interest in me it got my attention. The seriemas at the San Antonio Zoo prompted a similar reaction when one of them seemed to take interest in me, though I was interested in seriemas even before then.

    And it's clearly not just a matter of animals taking an interest in me. The keas at the Denver Zoo seemed completely uninterested in me, yet I spent about fifteen minutes watching them and would have spent far longer if I'd had more time. But then the keas were playing, and that was fascinating to watch. So it's possible that activity, sociability, and interest in me are three distinct-but-related factors. Still my experience at the Austin Zoo doesn't make me any more inclined to seek out cougars at other zoos, so I'm not treating "curiosity: is it interested in me?" as its own factor.

    As I've said before, my main interest in zoos is birds, and while I think a lot of that is due to the way that they tend to meet many of my criteria at once, I still spend more time watching birds than mammals, even where they meet a similar number of criteria (guiras and dwarf mongooses are a good example). So "birdness" may be an additional factor for me. Even so, I still usually completely ignore things like flamingos (flamingos are actually pretty interesting, just not in zoos), emus, and bald eagles at this point. (Doesn't help that I've been spoiled by bald eagles in the wild; when you've seen a bird nesting everything else it does is boring by comparison.)

    While I'm making this thread, I'm going to confess: I enjoy watching both monkeys and (more upsettingly for our British members) meerkats. (For all that my mind boggled at all the people in San Antonio Zoo ignoring the bonobos for the colobus monkeys across the way. Bonobos hit all five of my criteria; the bonobos and kagu were my main reasons for going to the San Diego Zoo, which in turn was the reason I got interested in zoos as an adult.) Admittedly, meerkats are one of my less favorite social mongooses and I have a tendency to cut them out when going to zoos with other people because I have limited time and want to see rarities first. But given time to see everything I want, I'd still spend far more time watching meerkats than I would the average zoo exhibit, since they meet 1,4, and 5 on my list.
     
    Last edited: 4 Dec 2017
  2. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I think a lot of it is just personal preferences/idiosyncrasies and contingencies. For instance, I have had a pet snake since I was a kid and have always been interested in snakes, so unlike you it feels natural to me to spend time admiring snakes and waiting to see if they behave. Many reptiles and amphibians are masters of camouflage, and I always find it fun to search the habitat for hidden herps and then satisfying when I successfully find them. This is despite the fact that they are motionless.

    On the flip side, my mother has ornithophobia and the rest of my family doesn’t really care about birds, so when I was a kid going to zoos we often skipped walk-through aviaries and bird houses. This probably contributed to me having less interest in birds, although that interest has grown recently because of the research I’m doing with parrots.
     
  3. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

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    For me the biggest factor has to be activity. If an animals sleeping or walking sluggishly, then I'll usually take a few seconds to admire it and then move on. On the flip side if an animal is active then no matter what it is I'll stay and watch it for a while. I think that's why otters are so popular as visitors are enthralled by their high speed antics.
     
  4. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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  5. Gigit

    Gigit Well-Known Member

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    I find different animals interesting for all sorts of different reasons. I am especially passionate about orangutans. This morning at Paignton Zoo there were 5 visitors in the ape house which houses orangs and gorillas. Two of us (Mr Gigit and I) were watching two orangs in their showden and the three others were watching a keeper cleaning the gorilla showden o_O

    Which brings me to an article by Ashley Leiman, Director of the Orangutan Foundation UK, in their latest newsletter. Talking about fund raising and conservation, she is frustrated that comparatively little attention is paid to the great apes. She asks why orangs don't elicit the same level of response as other endangered creatures and wonders if their very 'human-ness' somehow works against them. 'Does the closeness that should engender a sense of kinship and protection instead make us uncomfortable? In a zoo, people feel a sense of awe when they witness the size and presence of an elephant, or the charismatic grandeur of a tiger. The great apes intrigue us, but amuse us too - we laugh at their antics, their closeness seems child-like.'

    Visitors certainly do laugh at them - there's always a wag in the group who makes a comment about an orang looking like grandad, or another 'showing off', and then there are the inevitable oooh oooh aaah aaah 'chimp' noises.

    Anyway, these thoughts went through my head as the other visitors in the ape house chose to watch a human wielding a hose rather than what they had presumably paid to come into a zoo to see :(
     
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  6. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    @Gigit:
    Gorillas get a lot of attention. Every zoo I've been to gorillas either have a long line (as at the San Diego Zoo), or a crowded exhibit. However you're right that the other great apes seems to be neglected; I remarked on how at San Diego Zoo everyone (except for one young couple and my group) were ignoring the bonobos to look at the colobus monkeys at the first viewing point. That said, there were a lot more visitors at the second viewing point, where there were pictures of the individual bonobos with identifying information and people were trying to figure out which is which.

    Personally, since orangs are solitary I find them the least interesting of the great apes, and they also don't make me want to hug them (none of the great apes except bonobos do), but they're still interesting because of their unusual taxonomic position. That said, I think a lot of the issue with both orangs and chimps has a lot to do with exhibit design. Every orang exhibit I've seen looks pretty much the same (chimps and gibbons have much the same problem): it shows them divorced from their natural environment in a beautifully-designed but completely artificial playground they don't use much. There's nothing particular to catch my attention, and since most zoos have orangs I've seen it all before.

    If I were going to house orangs, I'd want to do the following things:
    1. House both the Bornean and Sumatran species in adjacent enclosures, with an exhibit between the two comparing both species and the newly described Tapanuli species. (It lives in Sumatra but is closer to the Borean orang. Neat!) Encourage visitors to spot the differences.
    2. Include signs identifying each individual orang, so that visitors get to try to to determine "who's who," and include the orangs' biographies.
    3. Include a lot of Sundaland plant species, especially species that orangs would eat or sleep in in the wild. It will take a long time for trees to grow to support the orangs' weight, but I believe it will be well worth it.
    4. Make your exhibit a "Borneo," "Sumatra," or "Sundaland" exhibit of which orangs are the centerpiece: display non-orang species as well. If possible, see if you can get junglefowl laying eggs. It's unlikely visitors will see the orangs eating them, but "hey, our relatives are eating the eggs of chicken relatives" will probably get some visitors' attention.
    5. Have benches in front of the exhibit. I'm much more likely to spend time at an exhibit which marginally interests me if I can sit and watch it. And yet the only AZA Zoo I've been to that has benches in convenient places is Miami.
     
  7. TZDugong

    TZDugong Well-Known Member

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    Regarding the Orangutans, I think they are a very popular animal. At my local Toronto Zoo there are almost always a crowd of people around. They are definitely top 10 in terms of popular animals at the zoo. Maybe it's that Toronto has good viewing, but I've always thought that Orangutans are popular zoo animals
     
  8. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    No Tapanuli orangutans?
     
  9. Mayki

    Mayki Well-Known Member

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    Orangutans at Chester are an interesting story. Realm of the Red Ape was built to house both species as well as lar gibbons. It was an extremely popular exhibit with lots going on with the orangutans playing about. But when Islands was built, the Sumatrans moved to the Monsoon Forest which I think is even better for them than Realm of the Red Ape. The Realm now feels a bit old and miserable now as it isn't as natural looking and new as Monsoon Forest and in general, Borneans don't seem to be as active however there is a baby currently which grabs attention but there is more Sumatran babies anyway. For me the most interesting thing in the Realm are the vivs! I really hope the Borneans move over to one side of the Monsoon Forest along with the gibbons so people can be educated on the differences of the 2 species like Zygodactyl said as it was like that originally in the Realm if I remember. Also it would allow the Realm to be used for something else like a new monkey house.
     
  10. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    I suggested handling them by having signage comparing the three species, since they aren't found in captivity as far as I know.

    My suggestion stems from seeing orangs in zoos back when we thought there were only two species. It was common to have a size-by-side comparison on signs but only one species in the exhibits, so the signs didn't tell you much. It would helped to have the Sumatran and Bornean/Tapanuli clade both represented by living examples. And if you could get all three species (or have Tapanuli instead of Bornean orangs), that would be amazing.
     
  11. Kakapo

    Kakapo Well-Known Member

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    For sure, my critieria are 2+3. For me, 1, 4 and 5 have an almost null importance, and probably this is why I enjoy as much in a natural history museum as in a zoo. Of course I understand that this don't work for other people.
     
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  12. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    See, I actually love natural history museums, but museums usually have interesting signs to read. (I always read all the signs; most people I know hate going to museums with me.) Zoos, as a rule, don't have very interesting signs. They usually explain why an animal is endangered, how two animals that seem similar are different, and/or include random "cool" factoids. It's usually stuff I already know and zoo signs almost never make me look at an animal in a new light.

    The exceptions I can think of have all been at aquariums, rather than zoos. (The Monterey, Birch, and Audubon Aquariums all had exhibits with signs that made me go "huh, that's really interesting.") This may be in part because aquariums often have animals I didn't know existed before I saw them, but I think they often do a better job of explaining why their animals are interesting than zoos do.
     
  13. Batto

    Batto Well-Known Member

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    So straight back to the husbandry and presentation model of comparative taxonomy, aka "Species Stamp Collections"? That's, given the opposing current trend of modern zoo exhibition ("More space for less species"), quite retro, if not rather daring...

    To go back to your original post: you completely neglect one main aspect in your whole quotation: yourself. You actually started with that:
    Just as all of us, you're an individual human being. Your outlook and perspective on life is formed and influenced by your individual experiences, social / cultural background, history, education etc. There are odd animals that, for maybe unknown reasons, any of us have a soft spot for. A former student of mine is a great leech fan; not a lot of people can share his fascination for them.
    However, in many cases, this fascination is inseminated and blossoms due to "accidential circumstances": as a kid, my local zoo kept a very old and large African softshell turtle. Nowadays, I enjoy every opportunity to encounter large softshell turtles, African or not. A friend of mine was a die-hard cat person. But then, one fateful rainy night, he found an abandoned little puppy dog...My wife wasn't interested in snakes before we started dating. Now she is. And so on and on...
    There are several threads on ZC about what makes some zoo species more attractive to humans than others; anthropomorphizing plays a great role here, but doesn't also explain the odd leech, bat or giant softshell turtle fan.

    Without acknowledging the aspect of individuality, your attempt to categorize and generalize will fall short.
     
  14. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    If I designed a zoo I wouldn't have orangs at all (at most I'd have one great ape: bonobos), however I've been very clearly both in my original post and elsewhere on the forum that I think animals should be presented in their ecological context whenever possible, and I described how I'd do it for orangs. The main point of my post was that I don't think any zoo orang exhibits I've seen has been good.

    Now, I also believe that taxonomic context is important. Yet that alone wouldn't be enough for me to want to display two closely-related species side-by-side. The reason I proposed this is that the original lament was "how do we get people to pay attention to orangs?" and this is clearly something zoos wish to convey. I don't think I've ever seen an orang exhibit that didn't have a "Sumatran vs. Bornean orangutan" comparison, and I don't think that those signs alone are very effective.

    Presenting the two orangs side-by-side, in exhibits which make you want to stop and look for awhile, would be my solution. And considering that Borneo and Sumatra are both part of Sundaland, you don't have to deviate from a geographic theme to do it, unlike the primate or great ape sections that are still popular in zoos.

    I'm aware of this. I'm not trying to generalize. ZooChatters often seem annoyed when people either ignore species they like (you and snakes) or pay attention to species they don't like (half our British members and meerkats). I know I felt intense annoyance to see people ignoring the bonobos at San Diego (rare an interesting) to look at the black-and-white colubus monkeys (common as dirt), and I feel a twinge of annoyance when people marvel at the golden pheasants instead of the birds that I find actually interesting.

    If I wanted to generalize I'd note that we're almost all biased towards organisms that we can see and towards tetrapods. There's a reason Tetrapod Zoology is such a popular blog with zoo geeks in a way Nematode Zoology never could be. However in addition to those nearly universal biases, we have idiosyncrasies which account for both the exceptions to the rule and how we divide our attention within groups we like. Snakes are really a specialized lizard, but I doubt you give all squamates the same attention you give snakes. I love birds, but pretty much ignored core passerines (among other groups) for a long time.

    That point of this thread is individual idiosyncrasies. I'm asking ZooChatters about their own biases. And I'm talking about my own biases because I'm answering the question I asked in the title of the thread.
     
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  15. ZooElephantsMan

    ZooElephantsMan Well-Known Member

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    I personally am biased to really intelligent animals such as great apes and elephants, or to "pachyderms" (I know that pachyderm isn't a scientific term anymore, but it still describes the basic category of animal that I like in a more colloquial way). I really like to watch animals with cool social behavior and dynamics, such as gorillas. I am very interested in animal communication and behavior, and I like to see the ways different animals interact with each other, or with unusual situations.
     
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  16. SealPup

    SealPup Well-Known Member

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    There was a section about this in Naked Ape, the popular zoo animals - not counting just zoology nerds or conservationists - will be anthropomorphic, paedomorphic, "funny", or perhaps fascinating because they are creepy or ferocious etc. Bears, monkeys and parrots rate high on most people's lists. This explains the vertebrate bias of zoochatters as it reflects the general public, just some people step it up a notch.
     
  17. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    And just what is wrong with Golden Pheasants?
     
  18. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    Trying to work out what attracts me to an animal:
    1/ Grace and beauty. So antelopes and deer.
    2/ Being a bird. So all birds.
    3/ Familiarity. So Gorillas, Orangs, Fruit Bats.
    4/ Weirdness. So Echidna.
    5/ Loads of other stuff, in fact almost anything!
     
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  19. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    Except penguins, which are nasty bitey things IMHO.
     
  20. Mayki

    Mayki Well-Known Member

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    Ok I will take even MORE penguins.