Riley, A., Terry, M., Freeman, H. et al. 2021. Evaluating the effect of visitor presence on Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) behavior. Journal of Zoological and Botanical Gardens 2(1), 115–129.

Visitor presence has been shown to affect the behavior of animals in zoos. However, studies to date have not included a wide range of taxonomic groupings, and thus, the effect is poorly understood for many species. Here, we compared the behavior of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus) in the presence and absence of visitors for the first time. Data were collected at Disney’s Animal Kingdom® over two months during normal operating conditions and during the same two months the following year when the park was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, totaling 158 observation hours. Significant differences in crocodile behavior were observed between park operating conditions; however, the direction of change varied by behavior and average differences were generally small. In addition, we found that time of day, temperature and month significantly affected behavior, often with greater magnitude than visitor presence. This highlights the importance of accounting for environmental variables when evaluating and interpreting the behavior, and ultimately welfare, of reptiles in zoos. Collectively, the data suggest the overall effect of visitors on crocodile behavior was small and neutral from a welfare perspective. This study highlights the importance of taxonomic diversity in studying the visitor effect.