Friday, July 08, 2011

Zoo Chimps' Mental Health Affected by Captivity

Many chimpanzees housed in zoos show abnormal behavior that suggest mental illness, according to a new PLoS One study.

The documented behaviors, which included self-mutilation, repetitive rocking, and consumption of feces, are symptoms of compromised mental health in humans, and are not seen in wild chimpanzees, the authors say. The study found that even chimps at very well regarded zoos displayed the disturbing behaviors.

"Absolutely abnormal behavior and possible mental health issues are most commonly associated with lab chimps," co-author Nicholas Newton-Fisher told Discovery News. "This is one of the reasons we were surprised to see the levels of abnormal behavior that we did -- in chimpanzees living in good zoos."

"We conclude that the chimpanzee mind might have difficulties dealing with captivity," added Newton-Fisher, a primate behavioral ecologist at the University of Kent's School of Anthropology & Conservation.

He and co-author Lucy Birkett used both direct observations and published sources to document the behaviors of 40 chimpanzees at six zoos in the U.S. and the U.K. The collected data, covering a two-year period, was then compared to observations made of wild chimpanzees, such as 1023 hours of documentation on wild chimps in Uganda.


Full story here.
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