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Computer-assisted enrichment for zoo-housed orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus)

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The study of environmental enrichment has identified a variety of effective forms of enrichment, but there are widespread problems associated with their use. Few forms of enrichment are cognitively challenging, and even the most effective often result in rapid habituation. This study examined the use of a computer–joystick system, designed to increase in complexity with learning, as a potential form of enrichment. Eight orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), housed in male/female pairs, were observed for 120 h during a baseline period and 120 h when the computer–joystick apparatus was available. Data were collected in 1 h sessions using instantaneous group scan sampling with 30 s intervals. The orangutans spent 25.9% of the scans using the joystick system. One member of each pair monopolised the computer system: 'high users' spent 48.9% of scans using the joystick system compared with 2.9% by 'low users'. Behavioural changes associated with the provision of the computer included increases in aggressive behaviour, anxiety-related behaviours, solitary play, contact with and proximity to a social partner, and decreases in feeding. The lack of habituation by the high users, both within and across sessions, indicates that computer-assisted tasks may be a useful form of environmental enrichment for orangutans. However, the significant increase in aggression indicates that this form of enrichment may be more suitable for singly caged animals, or that the provision of multiple apparatuses should be tested for the ability to eliminate potential competition over the device.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2004

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