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Great ape cognition and captive care: Can cognitive challenges enhance well-being?

By Fay E. Clark

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Given the close genetic link between humans and nonhuman great apes, the well-being of the latter in captivity is understandably controversial. Behavioural signs of boredom, anxiety and stress in captive great apes have been linked to being reared in small groups or by humans, and by having a lack of control over the environment. This review proposes a new framework for great ape enrichment, inspired by a century of cognitive research. Problem-solving tasks that are designed so challenge the evolved cognitive skills of great apes might allow subjects to have more control in inherently restricted environments. These sorts of tasks have historically been used to test the comparative cognitive abilities of great apes housed in research facilities, with few parallel assessments of well-being. However, there is great potential for ‘cognitive challenge’ tasks to be applied to great apes in a range of captive settings for the enhancement of well-being. This is based on recent research on farmed animals, demonstrating that they may seek cognitive challenges and benefit from their own learning success. A new definition of ‘cognitive enrichment’ – where an appropriate cognitive challenge results in measurable beneficial changes to well-being – is proposed to encourage research at the interface of great ape cognition and well-being. Finally, two approaches to great ape cognitive enrichment – ‘low-investment’ and ‘high-investment’ – are proposed for future research.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 135
Issue 1
Pages 1-12
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.10.010
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Enrichment
  2. Great ape
  3. Well-being
  4. Zoos