The research conducted for the Chimpcam Project was non-invasive, meaning that it did NOT cause pain or discomfort and allowed the chimpanzees the choice to participate or not.
The project’s use of touchscreen technology and on-exhibit research was the first of its kind for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo. As a result, the researchers placed a great deal of importance not only on assessing the welfare of the chimpanzees throughout training and testing phases, but also assessing the public’s perception of cognitive research being conducted within a zoo context.
Partly funded by the BBC, the Chimpcam Project was shown in the UK (broadcast January 2010) and subsequently in a variety of other countries, including Canada and the United States (on Animal Planet). The broadcast allowed us to gather information on the wider public’s perception of conducting research with great apes in zoos, to complement data collected with visitors to the exhibit itself. We assess the impact that such documentaries may have on public perception with preliminary results showing the documentary to have a positive influence on perceptions of zoo research, scientists, welfare, and the importance of choice for animals.
During the Chimpcam Project, a new group of chimpanzees arrived in Edinburgh as part of the international breeding programme for western chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus). As the zoo’s focus switched to helping the two chimpanzee groups merge into one, we took the opportunity to apply psychological research to this unique context, namely the use of video as a research tool and the recognition of the importance of individual differences in responses to challenge. The project maintained the cognition and welfare focus by using “video introductions” (allowing the chimpanzees to watch video footage of the chimps they were about to meet, and to track the formation of other sub-groups) and established personality ratings to examine the efficacy of these measures in guiding introductions in order to reduce risk.
The welfare implications of the introduction process were also assessed and provided insight into the importance of choice of location (not necessarily amount of total space), and the impact of multiple changes in group size on behaviour, including potential in-group/out-group differences. Our data indicate that although there were sometimes behavioural responses to these challenges, the chimpanzees coped well with both cognitive challenges and to social upheaval during introductions.
- Welfare assessment during the development of a cognitive research programme
- Cognitive research tasks: self-recognition, video choices, chimpcam
- Video introductions and personality assessments as predictors of introduction outcomes
- Welfare implications of chimpanzee introductions
- Assessing public engagement with science
All research for The Chimpcam Project has been approved by animal care staff of RZSS and the ethics committee of the University of Stirling’s Psychology Department.