Zoo aims to help chimps hang on to their wild side

ATHERSTONE, England (Reuters) - Scientists and animal keepers at a zoo in England are hoping to encourage chimpanzees in captivity to behave more like they would in the wild thanks to a new computer tool that helps to redesign enclosures and monitor results.

University of Birmingham researchers have introduced a forest canopy-like environment in the chimpanzee enclosure at Twycross Zoo using the software, which provides data on wild chimpanzee behavior and allows researchers to analyze changes.

“A key part of the tool is that it’s based on replicating the mechanical challenges that chimpanzees experience in the wild in their daily lives,” Susannah Thorpe, senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, told Reuters.

“So when they’re moving around forest canopy they have to deal with branches flexing under their weight, they have to deal with planning routes in advance so they know where to go to get to the next food source and we’re trying to emulate these mechanical challenges into the lives of captive chimpanzees.”

Straps and other structures have been installed to make the chimps bend and move around off the ground.

The tool could eventually help re-introduction programs by giving chimps in captivity the cognitive skills to survive in the wild, Thorpe said.

“The primary thing that we can see right away is that they’re much more active,” she said.

“These animals that really could be reintroduced back into the wild also clearly need to have a whole range of skills that they need to move around the forest canopy to get food and to socialize with each other.”

Reporting by Matthew Stock; editing by Andrew Roche