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The impact of cognitive testing on the welfare of group housed primates

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Providing cognitive challenges to zoo-housed animals may provide enriching effects and subsequently enhance their welfare. Primates may benefit most from such challenges as they often face complex problems in their natural environment and can be observed to seek problem solving opportunities in captivity. However, the extent to which welfare benefits can be achieved through programmes developed primarily for cognitive research is unknown. We tested the impact of voluntary participation cognitive testing on the welfare of a socially housed group of crested macaques (Macaca nigra) at the Macaque Study Centre (Marwell Zoo). First, we compared the rate of self-directed and social behaviours on testing and non-testing days, and between conditions within testing days. Minimal differences in behaviour were found when comparing testing and non-testing days, suggesting that there was no negative impact on welfare as a result of cognitive testing. Lipsmacking behaviours were found to increase and aggressive interaction was found to decrease in the group as a result of testing. Second, social network analysis was used to assess the effect of testing on associations and interactions between individuals. The social networks showed that testing subjects increased their association with others during testing days. One interpretation of this finding could be that providing socially housed primates with an opportunity for individuals to separate from the group for short periods could help mimic natural patterns of sub-group formation and reunion in captivity. The findings suggest, therefore, that the welfare of captive primates can be improved through the use of cognitive testing in zoo environments.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere78308
JournalPLoS One
Volume8
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2013

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