Earl, S. C., Hopper, L. M., Ross, S. R. 2020. Same space, different species: The influence of exhibit design on the expression of zoo-housed apes’ species-typical retiring behaviors. Animals 10(5), 836.

Wild chimpanzees frequently make arboreal nests, while wild lowland gorillas typically nest on the ground. We aimed to understand whether zoo-housed apes’ use of elevated spaces for retiring similarly differed between species and across exhibits. Using a pre-planned exhibit switch at Lincoln Park Zoo (Chicago, USA), we compared where (elevated or terrestrial) two groups of apes (Pan troglodytes and Gorilla gorilla gorilla) performed retiring behaviors (inactive, sleeping, and nest-building behaviors). We studied a group of six chimpanzees and a group of four gorillas in two exhibits of similar size and configuration for two three-month periods (between 3 and 5 p.m.) before and after the groups switched exhibits. We predicted that chimpanzees would be more likely to retire in elevated locations compared to gorillas, irrespective of the exhibit. We found a significant effect of exhibit on where the apes retired but no effect of species, such that both species were more likely to retire in elevated locations in one exhibit but not the other. This suggests that the specific characteristics of the exhibits (e.g., number of visual barriers) influenced the expression of the apes’ retiring behaviors. These findings offer further insight in how exhibit design can influence the expression of natural behaviors in these species.

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