CZAAWE Resource Article

Habitat Use and Structural Preferences of Captive Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla): Effects of Environmental and Social Variables
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
International Journal of Primatology
Exhibit naturalism has become the architectural standard for new zoo exhibits, yet our scientific understanding of how animals interact with naturalistic environments is very limited. Given the expense incurred in building new exhibits, it is essential that more information on animal-environment interactions be obtained and that it be incorporated at the outset into exhibit designs. We documented four years of habitat use and structural preferences of western lowland gorillas at Zoo Atlanta. We found that quality of space rather than quantity of space was important, as subjects spent 50% of their time in <15% of the exhibits. Subjects showed strong preferences for the areas near structures, particularly the holding building, and spent significantly less time away from structures than expected. Temperature interacted with structural preferences in that the subjects spent more time away from structures when temperatures were cold and more time near them when temperatures were hot. There was no difference in habitat use and structural preferences due to age, sex, and rearing history, but social factors appear to play a role. Our results are similar to those found a decade earlier in the same population and to other studies of space use in apes but are the first to include significant temperature effects. Additionally, they suggest that managers and designers need to take into account factors such as quality of space, attractiveness of the holding building, and the interaction of structural preferences with variables such as temperature and social factors when designing exhibits.