Captive chimpanzees show signs of compromised mental health

Jul 05, 2011
Captive chimpanzees show signs of compromised mental health

(PhysOrg.com) -- New research from the University of Kent, UK, has shown that serious behavioural abnormalities, some of which could be compared to mental illness in humans, are endemic among captive chimpanzees.

These include self-mutilation, repetitive rocking, as well as the eating of faeces and drinking of urine.

The research, which was conducted by Dr Nicholas Newton-Fisher and Lucy Birkett from the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation and is published by the online journal PLoS ONE, was conducted among 40 socially-housed zoo-living from six collections in the USA and UK. After determining the prevalence, diversity, frequency, and duration of abnormal behaviour from 1200 hours of continuous behavioural data, the researchers concluded that, while most behaviour of zoo-living chimpanzees is ‘normal’ in that it is typical of their wild counterparts, abnormal behaviour is endemic in this population despite enrichment efforts such as social housing.

Such abnormal behaviour has been attributed to the fact that many zoo-living chimpanzees have little opportunity to adjust association patterns, occupy restricted and barren spaces compared to the natural habitat, and have large parts of their lives substantially managed by humans. Controlled diets and provisioned feeding contrast radically with the ever-changing foraging and decision-making processes of daily life in the wild.

To date, published literature on abnormal behaviour in wild chimpanzees is sparse and rates of abnormality comparable to those described in the study have never been reported.

Dr Newton-Fisher, a primate behavioural ecologist and expert in wild chimpanzee behaviour, said: ‘The best zoo environments, which include all zoos in this study, try hard to enrich the lives of the chimpanzees in their care. Their efforts include providing unpredictable feeding schedules and extractive foraging opportunities, and opportunities for normal social interactions by housing chimpanzees in social groups. There are limits to what zoos can provide, however; the apes are still in captivity.

‘What we found in this study is that some abnormal behaviours persist despite interventions to ‘naturalise’ the captive conditions. The pervasive nature of abnormal behaviour, and its persistence in the face of environmental enrichment and social group housing, raises the concern that at least some examples of such behaviour are indicative of possible mental health problems.

‘We suggest that captivity itself may be fundamental as a causal factor in the presence of persistent, low-level, abnormal behaviour - and potentially more extreme levels in some individuals. Therefore, it is critical for us to learn more about how the chimpanzee mind copes with captivity, an issue with both scientific and welfare implications that will impact potential discussions concerning whether chimpanzees and similar species should be kept in captivity at all.’

Explore further: World's first microbe 'zoo' opens in Amsterdam

More information: ‘How Abnormal Is the Behaviour of Captive, Zoo-Living Chimpanzees?’ is available at: www.plosone.org/article/info%3… journal.pone.0020101

Provided by University of Kent

4.7 /5 (7 votes)

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User comments : 13

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Cave_Man
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 05, 2011
probably from all the idiot monkey kids (people) pointing yelling and observing them all day every day

give those poor guys some video games, porn and booze. problem solved.

but it does go to show you that animal rights activists are absolutely right, its wrong to keep animals in cages or any confined space, remember you're an animal too.
Noumenal
2.9 / 5 (7) Jul 05, 2011
ahh, amazing. Science again 'proves' the obvious. Sticking an animal in a cage of course, couldn't be like sticking a human in a cage: humans aren't animals. See, what I did there?
emsquared
5 / 5 (3) Jul 05, 2011
It'd be interesting to put this study next to one regarding prison inmates and see how they match up...

but it does go to show you that animal rights activists are absolutely right, its wrong to keep animals in cages or any confined space

You have to apply reason and reality here. While it's not great to extract healthy wild animals and place them in a zoo, there are plenty of animals who become injured/ill, separated from their group, or other-wise put in a condition where they would likely die in short order in the wild, but don't because they are taken on by a zoo, and given the awareness, interest and money that zoos raise for preservation and conservation of the natural world, the specimen unfortunate enough to be in captivity are not only arguably a necessary evil but also a great asset and champion to their kin.
Cave_Man
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 05, 2011
(I think of myself as a scientist if not a "new" scientist complete with morals and ethics)

When you refer to a captive primate as a specimen it's kind of unnerving to realize that to most scientists would label anything used in their experiments as such, for example im sure the nazi biologists thought of their specimens in much the same way that you do.

The fact is that there is a natural process, and science doesn't seem to care if it disturbs that in order to learn something.

By taking an injured monkey out of the wild who might otherwise die you may be "saving" it but you could be depriving a starving predator of its meal. There is no justification for doing most of the things we do except that we CAN do them. And that doesn't always mean we should...
barakn
not rated yet Jul 05, 2011
Not to mention enshrining the DNA of what might be a specimen of genetic quality inferior to the wild ones.
Mayday
1 / 5 (2) Jul 05, 2011
After seeing many, many primates in zoos all my life, I just today learned that all primates can smile and laugh, just like humans do.

Think about it.
astro_optics
3 / 5 (4) Jul 05, 2011
We are looking at our fututre...
Objectivist
not rated yet Jul 06, 2011
The fact is that there is a natural process, and science doesn't seem to care if it disturbs that in order to learn something.
Except science, you and me are all a part of that "natural process." It as impossible to step out of natural selection as it is to step out of nature, and nature doesn't only include jungles and forests. It includes everything of course.
Noumenal
not rated yet Jul 06, 2011
The fact is that there is a natural process, and science doesn't seem to care if it disturbs that in order to learn something.
It as impossible to step out of natural selection as it is to step out of nature,


Umm, surely, with respect to the 'natural selection' this is a ideological point, rather than a scientific one? Sure, we cannot step outside 'nature' so defined by you, though, I also have a feeling that we should be very careful to define 'nature' only as those concepts identified through the scientific method.
Objectivist
not rated yet Jul 06, 2011
Umm, surely, with respect to the 'natural selection' this is a ideological point, rather than a scientific one?
Ideological? In what way? Natural selection humbly dictates that the creature most adapted to its environment will have a higher chance of surviving. If I would compile a bunch of cells into a living organism, never before seen by the world, it is also a product of natural selection, as I am a also part of nature. If you were created by "God", then both you and "God" are still products of natural selection. You see, Darwin was a very clever guy. He had been dealing with religious drones all his life. He knew all about the ignorance of religion, so he came up with an idea that in its core was completely comprehensive. From that core idea, which really isn't more than a glorified explanation for "cause and effect"--the same rules that apply to physics, he would expand and prove his theory to satisfy his much arrogant peers.
Objectivist
not rated yet Jul 06, 2011
Rule of thumb: if the concept of natural selection to you seems to be anything other than obvious, you're making incorrect assumptions about it and thus don't understand it or try desperately to skew it to fit your (incorrect) pre-existing assumptions about the world around you. Nobody really understands the concept of natural selection and then goes, "yeah I don't think so."
emsquared
not rated yet Jul 06, 2011
When you refer to a captive primate as a specimen it's kind of unnerving

Thank you for your imposition, but (Miriam-Webster): specimen - (a) an individual, item, or part considered typical of a group, class, or whole

1. I wasn't talking only about primates, I was talking about everything in a zoo. Reading comprehension is your friend.

2. You can impart any implication you want if it makes you feel better about your loathing humanity, but the fact is, people would care a lot less about conservation and preserving the natural world if there were no zoos.

The fact that you have exemplified Godwin's Law also indicates you don't have a very valid point.

The fact is that there is a natural process, and science doesn't seem to care if it disturbs that in order to learn something.

As many like you, I'm guessing you would be emphatic about how man is not above nature or separate from it's laws, yet you seem to discount our life history as a natural process. Hypocrisy, defined.
gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Jul 10, 2011
Desmond Morris wrote a book called The Human Zoo, where he essentially says that we are the inmates in a zoo. In other words, society is a set of cages that we have can't escape. This conveniently explains why we have similar "signs of compromised mental health" as the chimps.

"Society" is 5000 years old, I believe. But that would only be some 250 generations. This means, as a race, we are totally unadjusted to being in the cages of society. No wonder half of the people I know either eat antidepressants or see a therapist. All the while the man on the street takes it for granted that we'll persist for the next ten thousand years.