Researchers from the University of Birmingham have designed a new web-based program that is helping zoo staff at Twycross Zoo designing the enclosure and enrichment programmes for chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).
This program gives information on features commonly seen in these animals' natural habitat - applying this to zoo enclosures makes them more unpredictable and stimulates captive animals to perform natural behaviours and use more their musculature for locomotion. Zoo staff observe the behaviour of the animals and add this information to the program, which automatically compares it with data from the wild.
These new features include a network of straps and nets, occupying the whole height of the enclosure. At the top, pockets with food are hidden in the chimps' bedding. The movement of the straps and nets changes with the number and actions of animals using them - an unpredictability that is common in their natural habitat.
Chimpanzees are listed as "Endangered" in the IUCN Red List, and it may be necessary to reintroduce captive-born individuals back into the wild, in the future. For this to be possible, these have to be not only genetically diverse, but also show similar behavioural and physiological responses to their wild counterparts.