Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Life At The OSU Chimpanzee Center

Life at the OSU Chimpanzee Center

There has been a lot of misunderstanding about what life was like for the chimps at the Chimp Center at OSU. Below are accounts of their daily lives, their unique social structure, how they were raised in an enculturated environment, and the important cognitive research they participated in

The former OSU chimpanzees lived together as a group in a small research facility where they had plenty to climb on, lots of enrichment, and had places to move around and hide. Their enclosures had several substrates including sand, pine bark mulch and recycled rubber mulch. They had hammocks, swings, hanging tires, perches; logs etc. and the tops of all of their cages were climbable. They would often swing across the top of large indoor playroom to greet staff and visitors at the window. They could play with who they wanted to play with, had indoor/outdoor access at all times year round with central air conditioning and heat, and they had blankets and seasonal browse to build sleeping nests. There was a total 12 different enclosures at OSU, 7 indoor and 5 outdoor. Although the size of the facility was not optimal the quality of the environment in which the animals lived was exceptional.

They ate all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables and because they were learning cognitive skills they also had access to grapes, and other healthy treats throughout the day. Because the space at OSU was relatively small, it was especially important that they had lots of human contact and equal emphasis was put on social as well object and food enrichment. In addition to their cognition tasks, which were a form of enrichment as it keeps them from getting bored, the care-givers would regularly engage them in various activities such as: theme days; dippy buckets; coloring, drawing and painting; watching movies; foraging; birthday parties; Easter egg hunts; playing dress up; looking at magazines and picture books; playing with cardboard boxes and rolls of paper; grooming each other and staff; and many other types of enrichment activities.

This was one of the happiest, well-adjusted groups of chimps in captivity. None of them had the psychological and physical scars that many chimps in captivity carry with them even when they are fortunate enough to go to sanctuary. These chimps were far from the typical "lab" animals that most think of when talking about research animals.

About Enculturation and the unique environment at the OSU Chimpanzee Center:

The Comparative Cognition Project began at the Center in 1983 with Kermit and Darrell, then 3 years old. Over the next 17 years Sheba, Bobby, Sarah, Keeli, Ivy, Harper, and Emma were added to the group. With the exception of Sarah (who was also raised in a type of enculturated environment with the Premacks but arrived at OSU in her twenties), each individual arrived as an infant and was raised in and is now adapted to a highly enculturated, interspecies environment. Enculturation involves raising a chimpanzee in a highly stimulating, socially complex, and object rich interspecies environment where meaningful social interactions with humans and skills to manipulate complex environments are developed and promoted. Enculturated animals have a greater dependency and affection for the human members of their group than animals that are reared under different conditions. Because the intent of the project was to create an environment that facilitated and cultivated a high level of social learning (among other things), a unique social structure that included humans was established and maintained. This enabled the social group to function at an optimal level, promoting the physical and emotional health of each individual. The animals benefited from the high level of comfort and safety this rearing environment provided. Introductions of new caretakers and new chimpanzees were smooth and stress was minimal, changes in daily routines did not cause stress, and the grief associated with the loss of individuals (human and chimpanzee) was minimized. When chimpanzee social groups are stable they are flexible, but changes have to be the choice of the individuals, not forced upon them; stability is the core feature of any social structure. Sudden, abrupt, and forced changes lead to a breakdown in this social stability and it compromises the physical and emotional health of each individual.

At PPI, the chimps experienced a complete breakdown in their social structure and suffered unnecessary psychological and physical trauma.

Research at the Center:

The primates at the OSU Chimpanzee Center participated in non-invasive cognitive research. The chimpanzees and monkeys enjoyed the tasks they were given and were never forced to participate. For many of them participating in the research was one of their favorite activities and served as a form of enrichment. The research revealed that the chimpanzees can count, spell, communicate, solve problems, behave altruistically, and judge what humans and other chimps want, need, and even feel.

Social Structure at the Center:

Unrelated adult male chimpanzees have a difficult time living in close quarters and have been known to cause physical injury to each other. Because Kermit and Darrell grew up together, they thought of each other as brothers. They had never spent a night apart since their arrival at OSU until Kermit’s death at PPI. This eventually left Bobby and Keeli to form a sub group, meaning they were kept separate from Kermit and Darrell (although Kermit and Keeli were regularly placed together to bond). Sarah, Sheba, Ivy, Harper, and Emma could freely choose which sub-group of males they wanted to be with throughout the day and would request from their caretakers to be moved as they desired. At night Harper, Emma, and Sarah spent the night together; Kermit and Darrell spent the night together; and Bobby, Sheba, Keeli, and Ivy spent the night in three connected cages, one of which was the large indoor playroom. Many times when the caretakers would come back late at night to check on the animals they would see Keeli and Ivy sleeping side-by-side in the same nest. In the morning the indoor and outdoor housing was cleaned and disinfected and many different objects and food items were placed about as enrichment for the animals. Then Kermit, Darrell and one or more of the youngsters and females were grouped together and the remaining youngsters and females were grouped with Bobby and Keeli. As the day progressed, the chimpanzees would keep the caregivers busy with their requests to move into new social groups! For example: Kermit, Keeli, and Harper would form a group; Bobby, Emma, and Sarah would form a group; and Sheba, Ivy, and Darrell would form a group. All possible groupings of individuals were used throughout the day to promote normal chimpanzee social behaviors; to maximize and enhance social learning and stability; to encourage social bond formation; and to offer a good source of social enrichment. Lots of moving around into different social groupings was essential for maintaining the healthy social dynamic at the Center where space was somewhat limited. By giving the animals choices, stronger social bonds were formed and conflict was reduced.


Capuchin monkeys show some of the same kinds of behaviors in the wild that are seen by chimpanzees. Like chimps, they are very social animals; also like chimps, they are among the very few species of primates to use tools in the wild and to share food with others of their group. Thus, capuchin monkeys are often studied in cognitive research as well as chimpanzees. The three capuchin monkeys previously housed at the chimp center—Jane, Ulysses and Rain—were involved in much of the same research as the chimps. The capuchins were very good at using tools, and in the past several years participated in many tool use tasks. These tasks showed that capuchin monkeys’ understanding of how the world works is in some ways similar to how chimpanzees and human children understand the world around them.
Life at OSU allowed the capuchins to enjoy equal outdoor and indoor space. They had a variety of substrates such as pine bark mulch and sand, as well as a variety of nesting materials. Their indoor and outdoor enclosures all had different types of climbing structures that were changed at least 3 times a year. The capuchins were provided with daily enrichment such as forage boards, enrichment logs, puzzle feeders, radio, TV, hard plastic toys, browse, among many other items. They lived in a highly enriched environment with proper veterinary care.