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Title: An assessment of the development of a cognitive research programme and introductions in zoo-housed chimpanzees
Authors: Herrelko, Elizabeth S.
Supervisor(s): Vick, Sarah-Jane
Buchanan-Smith, Hannah M.
Keywords: animal behaviour
animal management
animal welfare
The Chimpcam Project
chimpanzee introductions
cognitive research
Pan troglodytes
positive reinforcement training
public engagement the science
wildlife documentary
Issue Date: 12-Oct-2011
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Zoological institutions emphasise the importance of excelling in the areas of animal welfare, conservation, education, and research, not only to better the lives of the animals under their care, but to also influence the general population in the pursuit to conserve the natural world. As a result, zoo life is anything but simple. This research project monitored the lives of a captive group of chimpanzees over a two-and-a-half-year period, during which time we explored four research topics while assessing the development of a cognitive research programme and chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) introductions in a zoo: welfare, cognition, public engagement with science, and animal management. The project’s use of touchscreen technology and on-exhibit research was the first of its kind for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo. As a result, the researchers placed a great deal of importance not only on assessing the welfare of the chimpanzees throughout training and testing phases, but also assessing the public’s perception of cognitive research being conducted through an internationally broadcast documentary about the project. In the short duration of the project, these research naïve chimpanzees did not fully grasp the concept of video selection in our free-choice activity, but overall, the introduction of a cognitive research programme did not compromise welfare, and the chimpanzees’ repeated interest suggests that chimpanzees found the research to be reinforcing. Partly funded by the BBC, the Chimpcam Project was shown in the UK (broadcast January 2010) and in a variety of other countries, including the United States and Canada (on Animal Planet in 2011). The broadcast allowed us to gather information over the internet on the wider public’s perception of conducting research with great apes in zoos, to complement data collected on visitors to the exhibit itself. Our assessment of the documentary’s impact on public perception showed that it had a positive influence on perceptions of zoo research, scientists, welfare, and the importance of choice for animals. During this research project, a new group of chimpanzees arrived in Edinburgh as part of the international breeding programme for western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus). As the zoo’s focus switched to helping the two chimpanzee groups merge into one, we took the opportunity to apply psychological research to this context, namely the use of video as a research tool and the recognition of the importance of individual differences in response to challenge. The project maintained the cognition and welfare focus by using video introductions (allowing the chimpanzees to watch video footage of the individuals they were about to meet and track the formation of other sub-groups). In addition, personality ratings and chimpanzee behaviour during the visual access period (an animal management technique used prior to physical introductions where the groups could see each other without physical contact) were collected to examine the efficacy of these measures in guiding introductions in order to reduce risk. Personality ratings and behaviours observed during the video introductions could predict the chimpanzees’ behaviour during the physical introductions, however, the visual access period had no predictive power. The welfare implications of the introduction process were also assessed and suggested that: the choice of location (i.e. options of where to be) was more important than the total amount of available space; having individuals removed from your group was more stressful than having individuals added; self-directed behaviour (SDB) performance was context-specific where rubbing significantly increased during periods of uncertainty that were not necessarily negatively valenced; regurgitation and reingestion (R/R) decreased over time; and both in-group members and those of high ranks spent more time grooming others. Overall our data indicate that the chimpanzees coped well with both cognitive challenges and social upheaval during introductions. Despite being regularly studied in captivity and in the wild, chimpanzees have a great deal more to teach us about their world. In order to provide the best welfare for the chimpanzees in our care, we need to understand how research and management practices affect their lives and how the public interpret what we do as researchers. By understanding these aspects of their world, we can better serve those in captivity and influence public opinion on the importance of conserving those in the wild.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Natural Sciences

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