CZAAWE Resource Article

Does group size matter? Captive chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) behavior as a function of group size and composition
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
2019
Publication/Journal 
American Journal of Primatology
ISBN 
0275-2565
Abstract 
The National Institutes of Health and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums recommend that captive chimpanzees be housed in multi-male, multi-female, age-diverse groups of no less than seven individuals. These recommendations are rooted in the idea that captive chimpanzee groups should be modeled after free-ranging, wild, fission-fusion chimpanzee societies. However, captive chimpanzees do not face the environmental pressures faced by wild chimpanzees, including food scarcity, inter-group competition, and predation. As such, it has been posited that wild, natural conditions may not be the most relevant metric for defining optimal captive chimpanzee group sizes and compositions. Additionally, captive housing poses a set of restrictions on group sizes and compositions, including the need to balance large, multi-male groups with space per animal limitations and intra-group aggression. In the present study, we examined the behavioral effects of group size, within-group age range, and percentage of males in the group. We collected 713 hr of focal animal samples across 120 captive chimpanzees housed in social groups of 4–10 individuals using a 58-behavior ethogram. Chimpanzees housed in groups with a large age range exhibited less inactivity and more locomotion than chimpanzees housed in groups with smaller age ranges. Additionally, chimpanzees in groups of ≥7 with less than half males showed the highest levels of locomotion. Lastly, chimpanzees in groups of ≥7 with at least half males showed the highest levels of affiliation. There were no other significant differences in behavior as a function of these variables or their interactions. These findings lend some support to the existing group size and composition recommendations, providing empirical evidence that there may be certain advantages to housing captive chimpanzees in larger groups with a more diverse age range and/or more males. These results also have practical implications for behavioral management programs across captive settings.