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Keywords:

  • meat eating;
  • zoos;
  • chimpanzees;
  • bonobos;
  • gorillas;
  • orangutans

Abstract

Although there are published reports of wild chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans hunting and consuming vertebrate prey, data pertaining to captive apes remain sparse. In this survey-based study, we evaluate the prevalence and nature of interactions between captive great apes and various indigenous wildlife species that range into their enclosures in North America. Our hypotheses were threefold: (a) facilities housing chimpanzees will report the most frequent and most aggressive interactions with local wildlife; (b) facilities housing orangutans and bonobos will report intermediate frequencies of these interactions with low levels of aggression and killing; and (c) facilities housing gorillas will report the lowest frequency of interactions and no reports of killing local wildlife. Chimpanzees and bonobos demonstrated the most aggressive behavior toward wildlife, which matched our predictions for chimpanzees, but not bonobos. This fits well with expectations for chimpanzees based on their natural history of hunting and consuming prey in wild settings, and also supports new field data on bonobos. Captive gorillas and orangutans were reported to be much less likely to chase, catch and kill wildlife than chimpanzees and bonobos. Gorillas were the least likely to engage in aggressive interactions with local wildlife, matching our predictions based on natural history. However unlike wild gorillas, captive gorillas were reported to kill (and in one case, eat) local wildlife. These results suggest that some behavioral patterns seen in captive groups of apes may be useful for modeling corresponding activities in the wild that may not be as easily observed and quantified. Furthermore, the data highlight the potential for disease transmission in some captive settings, and we outline the associated implications for ape health and safety. Am. J. Primatol. 71:458–465, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.