Baskir, E. A., Kucharski, S., Powell, D. M. 2020. Chinchilla (Chinchilla lanigera) behavioral responses to a visual signal preceding handling. Zoo Biology 39(6), 391-396.
Zoos use ambassador animals in educational programs featuring close contact with humans. Chinchillas (Chinchilla lanigera) at the Saint Louis Zoo are retrieved for programs by a keeper wearing brown handling gloves, but green cleaning gloves are worn during normal husbandry when physical contact with the animal is only incidental. The chinchillas’ primary keeper anecdotally reported more reactivity and movement from chinchillas when approached with handling gloves. Animals’ behavioral reactions to the presence of humans often include locomotion and vigilance, but these responses may be attenuated by predictability. To investigate these behaviors, handling trials involving brief contact attempts with both cleaning and handling gloves were filmed. Results indicated that chinchillas responded to disturbances by moving, jumping, and adopting more alert body postures. Surprisingly, movement was recorded in longer durations when the keeper attempted to touch the animals with cleaning gloves. This higher arousal may indicate that the animal was not expecting to be handled, yet an attempt to do so was being made. This reaction provides evidence that potentially aversive events should be reliably and consistently signaled.