Brand, C. M., Boose, K. J., Squires, E. C. et al. 2016. Hair plucking, stress, and urinary cortisol among captive bonobos (Pan paniscus). Zoo Biology 35(5), 415-422.
Hair plucking has been observed in many captive primate species, including the great apes; however, the etiology of this behavioral pattern is poorly understood. While this behavior has not been reported in wild apes, an ethologically identical behavior in humans, known as trichotillomania, is linked to chronic psychosocial stress and is a predominantly female disorder. This study examines hair plucking (defined here as a rapid jerking away of the hair shaft and follicle by the hand or mouth, often accompanied by inspection and consumption of the hair shaft and follicle) in a captive group of bonobos (N = 13) at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio. Plucking data were collected using behavior and all‐occurrence sampling; 1,450 social and self‐directed grooming bouts were recorded during 128 hr of observation. Twenty‐one percent of all grooming bouts involved at least one instance of plucking. Urine samples (N = 55) were collected and analyzed for the stress hormone cortisol. Analyses of urinary cortisol levels showed a significant positive correlation between mean cortisol and self‐directed plucking for females (r = 0.88, P < 0.05) but not for males (r = −0.73, P = 0.09). These results demonstrate an association between relative self‐directed hair plucking and cortisol among female bonobos. This is the first study to investigate the relationship between hair plucking and cortisol among apes. Overall, these data add to our knowledge of a contemporary issue in captive ape management.