Funkhouser, J. A., Mayhew, J. A., Mulcahy, J. et al. 2021. Human caregivers are integrated social partners for captive chimpanzees. Primates 62(2), 297–309.
In a captive environment, it is challenging to ensure the highest level of social and psychological well-being for species with naturally complex social organizations and structures. There is a growing need to meet the social requirements for individuals of these species, especially chimpanzees, housed in zoos, sanctuaries, rehabilitation centers, and laboratories. Complex social interactions and broader social structures can be aptly described via social network analysis. We expand on the literature regarding captive chimpanzee social networks, but uniquely consider their human caregivers as potential social partners. We observed the social interactions between one group of seven chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and their caregivers in six behavioral contexts (nearest neighbor, play, aggression, grooming, grooming solicitation, and social vigilance) at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest (USA). By constructing multiple chimpanzee and chimpanzee-caregiver social networks, our results indicate that caregivers are integrated partners in this group’s social structure. Additionally, we observed that the type and strength of chimpanzee-caregiver relationships varied between the chimpanzees. These results support the notion that caregivers offer additional opportunities (i.e., beyond those with conspecifics) for captive chimpanzees to construct and maintain meaningful social relationships. Our results show that considerations of captive primate social dynamics should include caregivers as potentially important social partners. Our results also highlight the importance of evaluating individual chimpanzee characteristics when developing philosophies of care and adopting husbandry practices that offer fulfilling social niches. Our findings bear influence on contemporary discussions of interspecies social relationships, captive welfare, health, translocation, and husbandry protocols for captive chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates.