The consequences of removing chimpanzees from their natural habitat, especially infant chimpanzees from their mothers, is well-studied. But, the long-term impacts of being raised in captivity from an early age are not. That’s what one new study aimed to find out. What did they find? About what you would expect. Chimpanzees raised in captivity suffered behavioral problems among their peers well after they were released back into sanctuaries.
Scientists looked at 60 chimpanzees with a variety of backgrounds in captivity over a 14 month period. Every single chimpanzee were living in zoos and more than half of them were former pets or performers. The study looked at various aspects of their behavior and how much contact the chimpanzees saw with humans and fellow chimpanzees before the age of four.
“Unusually for a study on this topic, we looked at the degree of human and chimpanzee exposure on individual chimpanzees along a continuum,” said Steve Ross, leader of the study. “This showed that those chimpanzees with more atypical beginnings to their lives, spending much more time with humans than with their own species, tended to behave differently than those that stayed with their family through infanthood.”
Studies have long shown how important it is for primates to be raised in a natural habitat during the early years of their life. This study was designed to look at how the disruption caused by captivity affected the chimpanzees later in life.
“One of the startling aspects of these findings is that these behavioral effects are so long-lasting,” Ross explained. These chimpanzees weren’t as social as others. They were less social in important activities such as grooming. And, these effects carried on for many years after their lives as pets came to an end.
Ross hopes that this new study will raise awareness against pet chimpanzees. I didn’t know this until today, but it is legal in large portions of the U.S. to own a pet chimpanzee. Even though chimpanzees are considered an endangered species.
You can read more about about the study here.
Image credit: Disney