Chimpanzees’(Pan troglodytes) problem-solving skills are influenced by housing facility and captive care duration

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Sofia Forss, Alba Motes-Rodrigo, Christine Hrubesch, Claudio Tennie
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Although a large body of primate cognition research is done in captive institutions, little is known about how much individuals from different facilities vary in their experiences and cognitive skills. Here we present the results of an experimental study investigating how physical cognitive skills vary between chimpanzees in relation to captive settings and their time in captivity. We tested 59 chimpanzees housed at two different captive facilities (a rehabilitation center (sanctuary) and a zoo) in three problem-solving tasks. Our results showed that chimpanzees at the two housing facilities significantly differed in overall task performance. On average, the sanctuary chimpanzees outperformed the chimpanzees housed at the zoo in the detour reaching task and the honey trap task. However, the zoo chimpanzees performed slightly better on average in the learning task. We propose that, for this particular sample, the documented differences result from a combination of factors, such as prior experience with cognitive testing, motivation levels and varying degrees of human exposure. Within the sanctuary sample, we found that chimpanzees who arrived at an earlier age at the sanctuary and had therefore spent a larger percentage of their lives in a captive environment, were better problem-solvers than those that arrived at a later age to the sanctuary. Thus, rehabilitation and time in captivity contributed to improved physical cognitive skills in sanctuary chimpanzees. Our results highlight the importance of studying intraspecific variation and the effect that previous experience and living conditions might have on physical cognitive skills in non-human apes. Accordingly, we should be cautious when extrapolating findings of cognitive studies from one population to the species as a whole.


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