As the weather turns warmer and brighter, many of our animals have been spotted soaking up the sun, and our resident goats at Hamill Family Wild Encounters are no exception! You can find the goats sunning themselves throughout the habitat, especially on their favorite rocks.
As we look to the summer season and the zoo fills up with guests from near and far, one important aspect of the goat habitat becomes more obvious: the retreat areas! While most goats enjoy a good scratch and some delicious food from visitors, sometimes they need a break from the excitement. Giving the goats the opportunity to choose when to interact with people and when to be alone is a critical component to their welfare.
When Hamill Family Wild Encounters was built in 2015, animal care experts at the zoo took note of what other zoos had done, and brainstormed what our goats would prefer in their new home. Luckily there is wealth of published research demonstrating the value of retreat areas, and not just for goats! For example, both goats and sheep given retreat space from petting zoo visitors had more positive welfare. A similar effect was seen for petting zoo pigs, goats, and llamas in another study, where the presence of a retreat space was suggested to have contributed to the very low levels of aggression towards visitors. Even exotic species such as kangaroos use retreat areas in their habitats when they need a break from visitors. More recently, goats in a grooming encounter that had the option move to retreat areas seemed unaffected by visitor presence alone. By giving the animals a choice of where to spend time in their habitat, we can promote positive welfare for all of our goats.
As a result, when the goats moved into their new home, they did not hesitate to use all of their new space, including the retreat area! Whenever you next stop by Hamill Family Wild Encounters, pay attention to all of the goats, not just the ones looking for a selfie and a snack. By respecting the retreat space and allowing the goats some time to soak up the sun or just rest on their own, you are contributing to good animal welfare at Brookfield Zoo! 
Maggie Ramont, MSc
Behavioral Research Assistant
Published August 31, 2023