Zoo to breed chimpanzees despite cruelty warning

A A A

A Scottish zoo is planning to start a new breeding programme for chimpanzees, in the wake of recent research suggesting that captivity drives chimps mad.

The plan for new chimpanzee breeding at Blair Drummond Safari Park near Stirling follows findings from the University of Kent showing that serious behavioural abnormalities – "some of which could be compared to mental illness in humans" – are endemic among captive chimpanzees.

The research, focusing on 40 chimps in six leading but unnamed zoos in the UK and the US, found that all the animals studied engaged in abnormal behaviour, which included self-mutilation, repetitive rocking, the eating of faeces and drinking of urine. The chimps came from many different backgrounds, and the researchers were unable to isolate any single cause, other than the one thing they all had in common – that they were in captivity.

"We suggest that captivity itself may be fundamental as a causal factor in the presence of persistent, low-level, abnormal behaviour – and potentially more extreme levels in some individuals," said the leader of the study, Nicholas Newton-Fisher, an expert in wild chimpanzee behaviour.

But the findings, published in the online science journal PLoS ONE, are not deterring the Blair Drummond Safari Park, which already has chimpanzees Chippy and his half-sister Rosie, born there 23 years ago, and wishes to bring in a new female in the hope that she and Chippy will mate.

"I do not believe that captivity is inherently bad for chimpanzees," said head keeper Alasdair Gillies. "There may be individuals in captivity who do display abnormal behaviour, but I think that is likely to be a result of their background. These abnormal behaviours could be learned culturally – chimps often imitate other chimps."

Mr Gillies added: "We will be pressing ahead with our breeding programme."

The Blair Drummond chimps live on a large wooded island on a lake at the park. The park believes they are of the subspecies Pan troglodytes verus, the western chimpanzee, and DNA tests are being carried out to establish this.

"They are quite rare, with not many in zoos in Europe," said the park manager, Gary Gilmour. "If it turns out that they are western chimpanzees, it would be very important from a conservation and breeding point of view. With around 30,000 left in the wild, and with deforestation in their habitat, and chimps being killed for bush meat and also taken for the pet trade, numbers are still decreasing, so we have to have stable groups in captivity for the future."

However, the Kent research conducted by Dr Newton-Fisher and Lucy Birkett concludes that abnormal behaviour is endemic in all captive chimpanzees.

"It is very difficult to reintroduce chimps into the wild, which leaves questions over the usefulness of captive breeding programmes," Dr Newton-Fisher said. "There are limited resources in chimp conservation, and what efforts are made should be focused on Africa, and stabilising wild populations."

Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, said there were difficulties with keeping all primates in zoos.

"The confines and artificiality of captivity can impose serious and negative welfare burdens on them resulting in stereotypic behaviour, heightened aggression, institutional boredom, and even self-mutilation," he said.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor