The Science of Nature

, 105:69 | Cite as

Beauty ranking of mammalian species kept in the Prague Zoo: does beauty of animals increase the respondents’ willingness to protect them?

  • Eva Landová
  • Petra Poláková
  • Silvie Rádlová
  • Markéta Janovcová
  • Miroslav Bobek
  • Daniel FryntaEmail author
Original Paper


Aesthetic preferences for animals correspond with the species’ presence in the worldwide zoos and influence the conservation priorities. Here, we investigated the relationship between the willingness of respondents to protect mammals and some attributed characteristics such as their aesthetic beauty. Further, several methodological aspects of measuring mammalian beauty were assessed. Animal beauty was associated not only with the respondents’ willingness to protect the species but also with its attributed dangerousness and usefulness. We found that the most preferred animals were carnivores and ungulates, whilst smaller species of rodents and afrosoricids were unpopular. The main characteristics determining that an animal will be ranked as beautiful were complex fur pattern and body shape. We demonstrated that the position of mammalian species along the ‘beauty’ axis is surprisingly stable, no matter the form (illustrations vs photographs), context of stimulus presentation (several number of stimuli per family vs one randomly selected species per family), or the method of beauty evaluation (relative order vs Likert’s scale).


Mammals Beauty Animal conservation Preferences Human perception Zoo 



We thank Dr. Jakub Polák for critical reading of an earlier version of the manuscript. We thank all of the respondents who kindly participated in this project. We also thank the Prague Zoo, which allowed us to study the aesthetic preferences of the zoo visitors and provided us with the photographs of some of the tested species, and we thank Martina Nacházelová for painting some of the rarest species.

Author contributions

Conceived and designed the research: EL, DF, and MB; performed the research: PP and MJ; analysed the data: DF, PP, MJ, and SR; wrote the paper: EL, DF, PP, and SR.


This work was supported by GAUK nos. 1310414 and 346315 and GAČR (Czech Science Foundation) grant no. 17-15991S; personal costs of MJ and SR were partially covered by the project “Sustainability for the National Institute of Mental Health“, under grant number LO1611, with a financial support from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic under the NPU I program.

Compliance with ethical standards

All the respondents agreed to participate in the project voluntarily. Each subject provided a written informed consent and additional information about his/her gender, age, residence, education, parenthood, and pet keeping. The authors declare that the project was approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB), Faculty of Sciences, Charles University in Prague, approval no. 2013/7.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

114_2018_1596_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (18 kb)
Online Resource 1. The list of species and the sources of the photos and illustrations used in the study. Species marked with * were included in the reduced set. (XLSX 17 kb)
114_2018_1596_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (25 kb)
Online Resource 2. The rankings of beauty for three of the order-ranked sets included in the study, the body weight, and their sources. (XLSX 24 kb)


  1. Adelman LM, Falk JH, James S (2000) Assessing the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s impact on visitor’s conservation knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. Curator 43:33–62. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Balmford A, Leader-Williams N, Mace G, Manica A, Walter O, West C, Zimmermann A (2007) Message received? Quantifying the conservation education impact of UK zoos. In: Zimmermann A, Hatchwell M, Dickie L, West C (eds) Zoos in the 21st century: catalysts for conservation? Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 120–136Google Scholar
  3. Bard JB (1981) A model for generating aspects of zebra and other mammalian coat patterns. J Theor Biol 93:363–385. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bitgood S, Patterson D, Benefield A (1988) Exhibit design and visitor behavior: empirical relationships. Environ Behav 20:474–491. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bowkett AE (2014) Ex situ conservation planning is more complicated than prioritizing the keeping of threatened species in zoos. Anim Conserv 17:101–103. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Breed B, Ford F (2007) Native mice and rats. CSIRO Publishing, ClaytonGoogle Scholar
  7. Caro TIM (2005) The adaptive significance of coloration in mammals. BioScience 55:125–136.[0125:TASOCI]2.0.CO;2Google Scholar
  8. Conde DA, Flesness N, Colchero F, Jones OR, Scheuerlein A (2011) An emerging role of zoos to conserve biodiversity. Science 331:1390–1391. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Conde DA, Colchero F, Gusset M, Pearce-Kelly P, Byers O, Flesness N, Browne RK, Jones OR (2013) Zoos through the lens of the IUCN Red List: a global metapopulation approach to support conservation breeding programs. PLoS One 8:e80311. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. Coursey DL (1997) Revealed demand for a public good: evidence from endangered and threatened species. NYU Env Law J 6:411Google Scholar
  11. Czech B, Krausman PR, Borkhataria R (1998) Social construction, political power, and the allocation of benefits to endangered species. Conserv Biol 12:1103–1112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davey G (2006) Visitor behavior in zoos: a review. Anthrozoös 19:143–157. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dawson J, Patel F, Griffiths RA, Young RP (2016) Assessing the global zoo response to the amphibian crisis through 20-year trends in captive collections. Conserv Biol 30:82–91. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Dobson A, Lyles A (2000) Black-footed ferret recovery. Science 288:985–988. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Dungl E, Schratter D, Huber L (2008) Discrimination of face-like patterns in the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca). J Comp Psychol 122:335–343CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Eizirik E, David VA, Buckley-Beason V, Roelke ME, Schäffer AA, Hannah SS, Narfström K, O’Brien SJ, Menotti-Raymond M (2010) Defining and mapping mammalian coat pattern genes: multiple genomic regions implicated in domestic cat stripes and spots. Genetics 184:267–275. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Fa JE, Gusset M, Flesness N, Conde DA (2014) Zoos have yet to unveil their full conservation potential. Anim Conserv 17:97–100. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fahrig L (1997) Relative effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on population extinction. J Wildlife Manage 61:603–610. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Frankham R, Briscoe DA, Ballou JD (2002) Introduction to conservation genetics. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Freese CH, Aune KE, Boyd DP, Derr JN, Forrest SC, Gates CC, Gogan PJP, Grassel SM, Halbert ND, Kunkel K, Redford KH (2007) Second chance for the plains bison. Int Zoo Yearb 136:175–184. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Frynta D, Marešová E, Landová E, Lišková S, Šimková O, Tichá I, Zelenková M, Fuchs R (2009) Are animals in zoos rather conspicuous than endangered? In: Columbus AM, Kuznetsov L (eds) Endangered species—new research. Nova Science Publishers, Inc, New York, pp 299–341Google Scholar
  22. Frynta D, Lišková S, Bültmann S, Burda H (2010) Being attractive brings advantages: the case of parrot species in captivity. PLoS One 5:e12568. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Frynta D, Šimková O, Lišková S, Landová E (2013) Mammalian collection on Noah’s ark: the effects of beauty, brain and body size. PLoS One 8:e63110. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Gippoliti S (2006) Applied primatology in zoos: history and prospects in the field of wildlife conservation, public awareness and animal welfare. Primate Rep 73:57Google Scholar
  25. Gippoliti S, Amori G (2007) Beyond threatened species and reintroduction: establishing priorities for conservation and breeding programmes for European rodents in zoos. Int Zoo Yearb 41:194–202. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Griffiths RA (1997) Temporary ponds as amphibian habitats. Aquat Conserv 7:119–126.<119::AID-AQC223>3.0.CO;2-4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gunnthorsdottir A (2001) Physical attractiveness of an animal species as a decision factor for its preservation. Anthrozoös 14:204–215. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gusset M, Dick G (2011) The global reach of zoos and aquariums in visitor numbers and conservation expenditures. Zoo Biol 30:566–569. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Hallgren KA (2012) Computing inter-rater reliability for observational data: an overview and tutorial. Tutor Quant Methods Psychol 8:23–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hills AM (1995) Empathy and belief in the mental experience of animals. Anthrozoös 8:132–142. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Isaac NJ, Turvey ST, Collen B, Waterman C, Baillie JE (2007) Mammals on the EDGE: conservation priorities based on threat and phylogeny. PLoS One 2:e296. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  32. Janovcová M (2015) Factors influencing worldwide zoo collections of lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodiles: effect of conservation status, body size and their attractiveness to humans. Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, PragueGoogle Scholar
  33. Kellert SR (1989) Perceptions of animals in America. In: Hoage RJ (ed) Perceptions of animals in American culture. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, pp 5–24Google Scholar
  34. Killin A (2013) The arts and human nature: evolutionary aesthetics and the evolutionary status of art behaviours. Biol Philos 28:703–718. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lacy RC (1987) Loss of genetic diversity from managed populations: interacting effects of drift, mutation, immigration, selection, and population subdivision. Conserv Biol 1:143–158. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Landová E, Marešová J, Šimková O, Cikánová V, Frynta D (2012) Human responses to live snakes and their photographs: evaluation of beauty and fear of the king snakes. J Environ Psychol 32:69–77. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Landová E, Lišková S, Frynta D (2014) Je krása zvířat vstupenkou na archu Noemovu? In: Dadejík O, Jaroš F, Kaplický M (eds) Krása a zvíře. Studie o vztahu estetických a etických hodnot zvířat, Dokořán, Praha, pp 33–102Google Scholar
  38. Landová E, Bakhshaliyeva N, Janovcová M, Peléšková Š, Suleymanova M, Polák J, Guliev A, Frynta D (2018) Association between fear and beauty evaluation of snakes: cross-cultural findings. Front Psychol 9:333. CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  39. Lees CM, Wilcken J (2009) Sustaining the Ark: the challenges faced by zoos in maintaining viable populations. Int Zoo Yearb 43:6–18. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lišková S, Frynta D (2013) What determines bird beauty in human eyes? Anthrozoös 26:27–41. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lišková S, Landová E, Frynta D (2015) Human preferences for colorful birds: vivid colors or pattern? Evol Psychol 13:147470491501300203. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lorenz K (1943) Die angeborenen formen möglicher erfahrung. Ethology 5:235–409. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mallapur A, Waran N, Sinha A (2008) The captive audience: the educative influence of zoos on their visitors in India. Int Zoo Yearb 42:214–224. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marešová J, Frynta D (2008) Noah’s Ark is full of common species attractive to humans: the case of boid snakes in zoos. Ecol Econ 64:554–558. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Marešová J, Landová E, Frynta D (2009) What makes some species of milk snakes more attractive to humans than others? Theor Biosci 128:227–235. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Margulis SW, Hoyos C, Anderson M (2003) Effect of felid activity on zoo visitor interest. Zoo Biol 22:587–599. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Marseille MM, Elands BH, van den Brink ML (2012) Experiencing polar bears in the zoo: feelings and cognitions in relation to a visitor’s conservation attitude. Hum Dimens Wildl 17:29–43. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Martin TE, Lurbiecki H, Joy JB, Mooers AO (2014) Mammal and bird species held in zoos are less endemic and less threatened than their close relatives not held in zoos. Anim Conserv 17:89–96. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Martín-López B, Montes C, Benayas J (2007) The non-economic motives behind the willingness to pay for biodiversity conservation. Int Zoo Yearb 139:67–82. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Martin-Lopez B, Montes C, Benayas J (2008) Economic valuation of biodiversity conservation: the meaning of numbers. Conserv Biol 22:624–635. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Metrick A, Weitzman ML (1996) Patterns of behavior in endangered species preservation. Land Econ 72(1):16 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Ojalammi S, Nygren NV (2018) Visitor perceptions of nature conservation at Helsinki Zoo. Anthrozoös 31:233–246. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Powell DM, Bullock EV (2014) Evaluation of factors affecting emotional responses in zoo visitors and the impact of emotion on conservation mindedness. Anthrozoös 27:389–405.
  54. Pritchard DJ, Fa JE, Oldfield S, Harrop SR (2012) Bring the captive closer to the wild: redefining the role of ex situ conservation. Oryx 46:18–23. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Ptáčková J, Landová E, Lišková S, Kuběna A, Frynta D (2017) Are the aesthetic preferences towards snake species already formed in pre-school aged children? Eur J Dev Psychol 14:16–31. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Pucek Z, Belousova IP, Krasiński ZA, Krasińska M, Olech W (2002) European bison: current state of the species and an action plan for its conservation. Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, BiałowieżaGoogle Scholar
  57. R Development Core Team (2010) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Austria, ViennaGoogle Scholar
  58. Rádlová S, Viktorin P, Frynta D (2016) Barvocuc 2.0, software for color image analysis. Available online at
  59. Redford KH, Jensen DB, Breheny JJ (2012) Integrating the captive and the wild. Science 338:1157–1158. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Saltz D, Rubenstein DI (1995) Population dynamics of a reintroduced Asiatic wild ass (Equus hemionus) herd. Ecol Appl 5:327–335. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Samples KC, Dixon JA, Gowen MM (1986) Information disclosure and endangered species valuation. Land Econ 62:306–312 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Serpell JA (2004) Factors influencing human attitudes to animals and their welfare. Anim Welf 13:145–151Google Scholar
  63. Sobel I (1978) Neighborhood coding of binary images for fast contour following and general binary array processing. Comput vision graph 8:127–135. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Soulé M, Gilpin M, Conway W, Foose T (1986) The millenium ark: how long a voyage, how many staterooms, how many passengers? Zoo biol 5:101–113. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. SPSS Inc (2007) SPSS for windows (version 16.0). SPSS Inc, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  66. StatSoft Inc. (2010) Statistica (data analysis software system), version 9.1.: Available online at
  67. Stern PC, Kalof L, Dietz T, Guagnano GA (1995) Values, beliefs, and proenvironmental action: attitude formation toward emergent attitude objects. J Appl Soc Psychol 25:1611–1636. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Stoinski TS, Beck BB (2004) Changes in locomotor and foraging skills in captive-born, reintroduced golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia rosalia). Am J Primatol 62:1–13. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Stokes DL (2007) Things we like: human preferences among similar organisms and implications for conservation. Hum Ecol 35:361–369. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Swanagan JS (2000) Factors influencing zoo visitors’ conservation attitudes and behavior. J Environ Educ 31:26–31. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Tokarska M, Kawałko A, Wojcik JM, Pertoldi C (2009) Genetic variability in the European bison (Bison bonasus) population from Białowieża forest over 50 years. Biol J Linn Soc 97:801–809. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Volf J (2009) Half a century of international cooperation in the preservation of the Przewalski horse direction: reintroduction. In: Anonymous (ed) Equus, Prague, pp 39–56. Accessed May 2018
  73. Ward PI, Mosberger N, Kistler C, Fischer O (1998) The relationship between popularity and body size in zoo animals. Conserv Biol 12:1408–1411. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Wilson DE, Reeder DM (2005) Mammal species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. (Vol. 2). JHU Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  75. Wilson DE, Lacher TE, Mittermeier RA Jr (eds) (2016) Handbook of the mammals of the world—volume 6 lagomorphs and rodents I. Lynx edicions, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  76. Woods B (2000) Beauty and the beast: preferences for animals in Australia. J Tour Stud 11:25–35Google Scholar
  77. World Wildlife Fund (2017) Annual report, Retrieved from Accessed May 2018
  78. Yılmaz S, Mumcu S (2010) Effects of spatial differences on visitor perceptions at zoo exhibits. Sci Res Essays 5:2327–2340Google Scholar
  79. Yorzinski JL, Penkunas MJ, Platt ML, Coss RG (2014) Dangerous animals capture and maintain attention in humans. Evol Psychol 12:147470491401200304. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Zimmermann A (2010) The role of zoos in contributing to in situ conservation. In: Kleiman DG, Thompson KV, Baer CK (eds) Wild mammals in captivity: principles and techniques for zoo management. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, pp 281–287Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceCharles University in PraguePrague 2Czech Republic
  2. 2.National Institute of Mental HealthKlecanyCzech Republic
  3. 3.The Prague zoological gardenPrague 7Czech Republic

Personalised recommendations