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Researchers at the University of Gloucestershire have taken participants for a walk on the wild side to see if an encounter with lemurs can have a positive impact on their mood and levels of physical stress. The researchers found that even after a very brief (11 minutes) stroll through a walk-through enclosure with free-roaming lemurs in a UK safari park, participants (N=86, mean age 20.8 years, 81.8% female) reported improved mood and experienced a lowering of the stress hormone cortisol after the experience. Looking further into why and how this may happen, they found that participants’ individual affinity to nature, and seeing a larger number of lemurs, as well as being in closer proximity to them, accounted for a large amount of variation in this decrease of the stress hormone.

Previously, most work on human animal interactions has either focused on pets or service/assistance animals; and most work on human-nature interactions has just focused on the landscapes of spaces or places, rather than specifically living things. Here, the researchers show that the ability for people to see animals in a naturalistic setting provides a boost to health and wellbeing. Prior work by a member of the team has also shown that the human presence in this specific walk-through enclosure does not have a negative impact on the lemurs. This combined evidence shows that providing benefit for humans does not need to come at a cost for the animals. The researchers hope that the results from this study will add to what we know about the health and wellbeing benefits of getting out into nature, and that by protecting and conserving animals as well as natural surroundings, we provide benefit for both nature and ourselves.