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PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e17147. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017147. Epub 2011 Jun 7.

Psychological health of orphan bonobos and chimpanzees in African sanctuaries.

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Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.



Facilities across Africa care for apes orphaned by the trade for "bushmeat." These facilities, called sanctuaries, provide housing for apes such as bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) who have been illegally taken from the wild and sold as pets. Although these circumstances are undoubtedly stressful for the apes, most individuals arrive at the sanctuaries as infants and are subsequently provided with rich physical and social environments that can facilitate the expression of species-typical behaviors.


We tested whether bonobo and chimpanzee orphans living in sanctuaries show any behavioral, physiological, or cognitive abnormalities relative to other individuals in captivity as a result of the early-life stress they experience. Orphans showed lower levels of aberrant behaviors, similar levels of average cortisol, and highly similar performances on a broad battery of cognitive tests in comparisons with individuals of the same species who were either living at a zoo or were reared by their mothers at the sanctuaries.


Taken together, these results support the rehabilitation strategy used by sanctuaries in the Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) and suggest that the orphans we examined did not show long-term signs of stress as a result of their capture. Our findings also show that sanctuary apes are as psychologically healthy as apes in other captive settings and thus represent a valuable resource for non-invasive research.

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