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Zoos Play Canned Lion Roars to Placate Human Visitors

People love visiting the lions at zoos; the problem is that lions sleep most of the day

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Image: Eric Kilby

The mighty roar of a lion is one of the most recognizable sounds around. From movie openings, to your favorite childhood cartoon, to that hilarious video of the lion trying to eat a baby dressed as a zebra. Come on, this brings back great memories:

People also love visiting the lions at zoos; the problem is that lions sleep most of the day. Which means no roaring for visitors to hear. In fact, according to the Atlanta zoo, that was one of the major complaints visitors had. To solve the problem, zoos played back lion roars from speakers.

This seems like a simple solution, but there are some things to take into account. First, do these lion roars freak out the lions in the exhibit? Do they freak out the animals nearby those lions, who might think that there are now far more angry lions next door than they once thought? Well, the zookeepers and researchers in Atlanta tested it out. Here’s what they found:

The male lion in this study roared more in the playback phase than in the baseline phases while not increasing any behaviors that would indicate compromised welfare. In addition,zoo visitors remained at the lion exhibit longer during playback. The nearby ungulates never exhibited anyreactions stronger than orienting to playbacks, identical to their reactions to live roars. Therefore, naturalistic playbacks of lion roars are a potential form of auditory enrichment that leads to more instances of live lion roars and enhances the visitor experience without increasing the stress levels of nearbyungulates or the lion themselves, who might interpret the roar as that of an intruder.

Basically, everybody was totally happy. The lions were unfazed, the nearby prey were unimpressed, and the visitors were happy. More lion sounds for everybody!

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Truth About Lions
The Lion Cubs in Winter

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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