Primate behavior changed when zoos were closed due to a pandemic, the study suggests

Primate behavior changed when zoos were closed due to a pandemic, the study suggests

Primate behavior changed when zoos were closed due to a pandemic, the study suggests

Primate behavior changed when zoos were closed due to pandemics, a study suggested (Peter Byrne / PA) (PA Archive)

Primate behavior changed when zoos were closed due to pandemics, a study suggested (Peter Byrne / PA) (PA Archive)

Primates spent more time resting and alone, performed more sexual and dominance behaviors, and ate less when zoos and safari parks closed during the first Covid lockdown, the research suggested.

A new study looked at how the behavior of bonobos, chimpanzees, western lowland gorillas, and olive baboons changed as people started returning to zoos.

When the visitors returned, the bonobos and gorillas spent less time alone and the gorillas spent less time resting, the researchers found.

The chimps ate more and engaged more with their enclosures when the zoo was open.

Primates are some of the most cognitively advanced species in zoos, and their interactions with visitors are complex

Dr Samantha Ward, Nottingham Trent University

The researchers also found that olive baboons had less sexual and dominating behaviors when visitors returned.

Additionally, they approached visitors’ cars more frequently than the ranger’s vehicle when the park was closed.

Dr Samantha Ward, zoo animal welfare scientist at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, said: ‘Primates are some of the most cognitively advanced species in zoos and their interactions with visitors are complex.

“One limitation to understanding how visitors can influence animal behavior in zoos and parks is that they rarely close to the public for extended periods, so this gave us a unique opportunity.”

The interactions between humans and animals and the impact of the presence of visitors to the zoo are considered crucial in relation to the welfare of the animals, the experts suggest.

Research has shown that different species, and even individual animals, respond differently to different humans.

According to the scientists, while it may be difficult to accurately determine whether the experiences were positive, negative, or neutral for individual animals, the chimpanzees and baboons appeared to be specifically stimulated by the return of visitors.

Likewise, bonobos and gorillas who spend less time alone could be considered positive.

But the reduction in resting behavior in the more sedentary gorillas could also suggest they have been disturbed by visitors, the researchers say.

Research suggests that the gorillas altered the use of their enclosure, which suggested they were able to modify their behavior to reduce potential overstimulation and manage their own experiences effectively.

According to the results, while the baboons may have been stimulated by visitors and the presence of cars, there was a threshold beyond which this did not increase.

The study also reports that their increased sexual behavior during closure could be due to the fact that they lacked the stimulation of the presence of moving vehicles.

Dr Ellen Williams, Zoo Animal Welfare Researcher at Harper Adams University, said, “Our study showed the various ways visitors can influence the behavior of captive primates.

“Behavioral changes and changes in the use of the enclosure in the presence of visitors highlight the adaptability of zoological species to their environments.

“Providing environments that allow animals to actively adapt in this way is really important to their well-being.”

Behavioral data for the study, published in the journal Animals, was collected between April 2020 and September 2020 and from November 2020 to January 2021 and went through multiple opening and closing periods during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas were observed at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire, while baboons were monitored by staff at Knowsley Safari, Merseyside.

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