Ross, S. R., Lake, B. R., Fultz, A. et al. 2021. An evaluation of thermal imaging as a welfare monitoring tool for captive chimpanzees. Primates 62(6), 919-927.
Among the growing list of novel tools with which to assess animal welfare is the use of thermal (infrared) imaging. The technology has already been utilized to identify emotional arousal in several nonhuman primate species, though most of these approaches have necessitated the use of relatively controlled settings. Here, we were interested to determine the feasibility of such techniques in a sanctuary setting in which chimpanzees were unrestrained and able to move freely around their enclosures. Furthermore, we sought to evaluate how such thermal images could be paired with corresponding long-term behavioral data and contribute to a multifactorial welfare monitoring system. Over a 6-month period, we simultaneously collected both behavioral and thermographic data on 29 chimpanzees living in four social groups. While we took a thermal image with every behavioral data point, we found that only a small proportion (6.38%) of the thermal images we captured were of sufficient quality to analyze. Most of these usable thermal images (55%) corresponded with a behavioral observation scored as “inactive,” and thus other, less frequent behaviors are not so well represented in our final data set. From our data set, we were able to determine that nasal temperatures were relatively lower when chimpanzees were categorized in active behaviors compared to inactive behaviors, providing some validity measures to our approach. While there are other potential applications for thermal imaging in the behavioral management of chimpanzees, managers should consider the practical limitations of developing long-term welfare monitoring programs that rely on thermographic data.