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Primates. 2015 Jan;56(1):21-7. doi: 10.1007/s10329-014-0441-3. Epub 2014 Sep 20.

Effect of repeated exposures and sociality on novel food acceptance and consumption by orangutans.

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Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Science Park 904, 1098 XH, Amsterdam, The Netherlands,


Hundreds of rehabilitant great apes have been released into the wild, and thousands await release. However, survival rates after release can be as low as 20%. Several factors influence individuals' survival rates, one of which is the capacity to obtain an adequate diet once released. Released individuals are faced with a mixture of familiar and novel foods in an unfamiliar forest; therefore, it is important to understand how they increase acceptance and consumption of novel foods. This is especially vital for omnivorous species, such as wild great apes, which consume several hundred species of different foods. We assessed the effects of repeated exposures and sociality (i.e. co-feeding in the presence of one or more other individuals) on the acceptance and consumption of novel foods by captive orangutans (Pongo sp). Repeated exposures of food (novel, at first) did not cause an increase of acceptance of food; in other words, the orangutans did not start to eat a food item after being exposed to that food more often, but repeated exposures of food increased consumption (i.e. quantity). After repeated exposures, the orangutans also became gradually more familiar with the food, decreasing their explorative behaviour. The presence of co-feeding conspecifics resulted in an increased acceptance of the novel food by orangutans, and they ate a larger amount of said foods than when alone. Repeated exposure and sociality may benefit rehabilitant great apes in augmenting and diversifying diet and, once practiced before release, may accelerate an individuals' adaptation to their new habitat, improving survival chances. Great ape rescue, rehabilitation and reintroduction require large financial and logistic investments; however, their effectiveness may be improved at low cost and low effort through the suggested measures.

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