Wild ape reactions to novel objects

“Our goal was to see how chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas react to unfamiliar objects in the wild since novel object experiments are often used in comparative psychology research, and we wanted to know if there were any differences among the three great apes,” says Ammie Kalan, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “We were specifically surprised by the differences in reactions we observed between the chimps and bonobos. Since they’re sister species and share a lot of the same genetic makeup, we expected them to react similarly to the camera, but this wasn’t the case.”

The chimpanzees were overall uninterested in the camera traps–they barely seemed to notice their presence and were generally unbothered by them. Yet the bonobos appeared to be much more troubled by camera traps; they were hesitant to approach and would actively keep their distance from them.

Individuals within a species reacted differently to the cameras as well. For example, apes living in areas with more human activity, such as near research sites, can get desensitized to unfamiliar items and become indifferent toward such encounters in the future. However, another member of the same species who has had less exposure to strange or new items, might be more interested in them. The age of the ape plays a similar role.

“Younger apes would explore the camera traps more by staring at them for longer periods of time,” Kalan says. “Like human children, they need to take in more information and learn about their environment. Being curious is one way of doing that.”

Research article: Novelty Response of Wild African Apes to Camera Traps

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