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The impact of atypical early histories on pet or performer chimpanzees

By Hani D. Freeman, Stephen R. Ross

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It is widely accepted that an animal’s early history, including but not limited to its rearing history, can have a profound impact on later behavior. In the case of captive animals, many studies have used categorical measures such as mother reared or human reared that do not account for both the influence of human and conspecific interaction. In order to account for the influence of both human and conspecific early exposure to later behavior, we collected 1385 h of data on 60 chimpanzees, of which 36 were former pets or performers, currently housed at accredited zoos or sanctuaries. We developed a unique metric, the Chimpanzee-Human Interaction (CHI) Index that represented a continuous measure of the proportion of human and chimpanzee exposure subjects experienced and here focused on their exposure during the first four years of life. We found that chimpanzees who experienced less exposure to other chimpanzees as infants showed a lower frequency of grooming and sexual behaviors later in life which can influence social dynamics within groups. We also found chimpanzees who experienced more exposure to other chimpanzees as infants showed a higher frequency of coprophagy, suggesting coprophagy could be a socially-learned behavior. These results help characterize some of the long-term effects borne by chimpanzees maintained as pets and performers and may help inform managers seeking to integrate these types of chimpanzees into larger social groups, as in zoos and sanctuaries. In addition, these results highlight the necessity of taking into account the time-weighted influence of human and conspecific interactions when assessing the impact that humans can have on animals living in captivity.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Publication Title PeerJ
Volume 2
Pages 16
DOI 10.7717/peerj.579
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Hani D. Freeman; Stephen R. Ross (2019), "The impact of atypical early histories on pet or performer chimpanzees,"

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  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Anthropology
  4. Chimpanzees
  5. Ethics
  6. Human-animal interactions
  7. open access
  8. peer-reviewed
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed