Impact of alternating overnight housing conditions on welfare measures in a bachelor group of western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Kylen N Gartland, Emily Bovee, Grace Fuller
American Journal of Primatology
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Spatial parameters and design of overnight housing spaces can have significant influences on both nocturnal and diurnal behaviors of western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in captivity. This is especially true for bachelor groups, as adult males have demonstrated a greater tendency to separate from conspecifics overnight. Additionally, previous studies have suggested that the social needs of individuals in bachelor units may shift over time. The bachelor unit at the Detroit Zoo is managed in a unique hybrid strategy in which the group is housed socially for three nights (either indoors or indoors with outdoor access), then separately on the fourth. A 2016 study of this group (n = 3) suggested that individuals had better welfare following social overnight housing as compared to solitary overnight housing. We aimed to reassess how overnight housing conditions affect individual welfare several years later. We revised a previously developed qualitative behavioral assessment tool that included 13 behavioral items spanning both positive and negative indicators of welfare. Animal care staff completed the assessment and collected a fecal sample every day for each gorilla for a period of 3 months. We used Kruskal-Wallis tests to analyze variation in behavioral items and FGMs between conditions. We then used generalized linear mixed models to identify whether overnight housing condition or other potentially confounding variables were driving observed variation in welfare indicators. We found significant variation demonstrating significantly better welfare indicators after being housed separately as compared to being socially housed indoors overnight. Although separate housing appears to be the ideal condition for this group at this point in time, if seasonality permits, social housing with outdoor access may be a feasible alternative to consistent overnight separation for these gorillas.


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