Leeds, A., Good, J., Schook, M. W. et al. 2020. Evaluating changes in salivary oxytocin and cortisol following positive reinforcement training in two adult male western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Zoo Biology 39(1), 51-55.
Positive reinforcement training (PRT) is associated with increases in species-typical behavior and decreases in stereotypic and abnormal behavior in participating animals. Physiological changes following PRT, for example, increases in oxytocin (OXT) and/or decreases in cortisol (CORT), may facilitate these behavioral changes. This study evaluated salivary OXT and salivary CORT concentrations in two adult male western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) following PRT with their primary animal care staff. Following PRT, no change in OXT was observed. CORT decreased in one subject following PRT. Changes in endogenous OXT are related to affiliative interactions and interact with strongly bonded conspecifics. PRT may not activate the oxytocinergic system because PRT is not a species-specific affiliative interaction and/or animal care staff are not viewed as conspecifics. Regardless, PRT may still be viewed as a positive interaction resulting in stress reduction via a decrease in CORT. Relationships are unique, thus these results only apply to these two gorillas and one animal caregiver. Larger population-level studies are needed to understand overall trends in human-animal interactions, and ultimately human-animal relationships. Further evaluation of physiological changes following human-animal interactions should be informative for understanding the human-animal relationship in zoos.