The effects of change of keeper and level of human-animal relationship on the behaviour of Kikuyu black-and-white colobus and Scarlet Ibis


AWF Research Fund



Research Period


Area of study

Student Research


Investigator(s): Sheryl Bradley

Supervisor(s): Sabrina Brando, Simon Turner

Evidence is starting to emerge that human-animal bonds exist between keepers and the animals in their care, but that these bonds are dependent on management styles and factors, such as the number of keepers providing care and the style in which they provide it. The formation of a bond (HAB) requires that the positive human-animal relationship (HAR) be reciprocal and beneficial to both human and animal. This study aimed to combine strength of relationship scores from an adapted version of the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (LAPS) with behavioural data to make attempts to determine if HAR’s and HAB’s are present and reciprocal within a zoo.

This study identified that keepers scored as having relationships of varying strengths with the animals they work with. This strength did depend in some part on what species it was being worked with, but despite the potential for the keeper to be ‘bonded’ with their animals according to their relationship score, this was not identified as being reciprocated by the animals by the behavioural data obtained. Therefore, the establishment of a true HAB cannot be confirmed. Despite the paucity of evidence for positive HAR’s and thus HAB’s in this study, the finding that behaviours of the animals did not change significantly between keepers and around days keepers changed over care for the animals is encouraging for zoo animal welfare. Further research and future studies are warranted to contribute to the evidence of how human-animal, and more specifically keeper-animal, relationships may impact on animal management and welfare.

Watch Sheryl Bradley present this research at the 2021 Discussion Forum


Full Report