Julia Sullivan


In the wild, primates cooperate to overcome challenges and maximise survival. Introducing cooperative tasks to zoo-housed primates may enhance welfare and promote prosocial behaviour in a captive setting. Comparative research on primate cooperation has predominately taken place in primate research facilities, where they are able to control pairing of individuals and incorporate task specific training. Zoos offer the opportunity to explore cooperation under more naturalistic conditions, but there is limited existing literature. I investigated the cooperative behaviour of socially housed groups of Sulawesi black crested macaques (Macaca nigra) (n=7) and White throated capuchins (Cebus capucinus) (n=4) at Newquay Zoo, using novel cooperative pulling tasks. I assessed the ability of the primates to cooperate without prior training, the group of M. nigra were unable to solve the cooperative task to gain a food reward, in the group of C. capucinus the dominant male was able to obtain the food reward using an alternative strategy. I conducted behavioural observations using focal scan sampling to assess the activity budgets of subjects comparing behaviour when the cooperative enrichment device was present (10 enrichment days) and when it was not (10 baseline days). I identified minimal differences in activity budgets between the two conditions, suggesting that there was no negative impact on welfare. Additionally, I investigated levels of interaction with the device. I predicted that approaches to, and interactions with, the device would decrease over the trials due to habituation. I found that interactions with the device varied among subjects, were higher in males and in both groups interaction with the device increased over the trials as did rope pulling actions, indicating that the device provided stimulation over the course of the study. In the M. nigra group, I compared the number of solitary and social rope-pulling actions, and found that subjects pulled the ropes more often in the presence of others. I conclude that cooperative devices and tasks that require spontaneous cooperation should continue to be explored in zoo settings and that this could be combined with training to encourage prosocial behaviours. In future studies, cooperative enrichment devices should be evaluated over more trials to further assess the appropriateness and welfare benefits of cooperative enrichment tasks in zoos.

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