Computer Games Can Provide Enrichment for Captive Primates

A team of researchers believes that electronic games and touchscreen technology can be used to entertain captive primates. Great apes, which are often the focus of conservation programs, need mental stimulation. Computer games and similar technologies can give these apes a higher quality of life. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Great apes, also known as the Hominidae family, are our closest living ancestors and the group includes chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas. All nonhuman Hominidae species are endangered and this problem has led to the development of captive breeding programs. Apes are highly intelligent and social animals, however, and they need enrichment. Zoos currently use enrichment activities such as foraging puzzles but many researchers believe that these activities aren’t always enough to maintain mental and emotional health.

Scientists from the Australian National University reviewed current research on the use of digital technology for captive animal enrichment. The team also studied the use of digital enrichment games at a zoo in South Korea. The animals in the study were allowed to choose games to play while the reactions of both the apes and human visitors were recorded.

The team found that digital entertainment can provide enrichment to captive great apes. In many of the reviewed studies, negative behaviors were reduced or eliminated. The animals also showed less stress when given interactive games to play. The authors noted that one benefit of electronic games is the animals’ freedom to make choices. The apes can decide which game to play and when they want to stop. In the zoo study, there were also benefits for humans. Visitors to the zoo had greater satisfaction when they got to play interaction computer games with the primates. One game involved drawing pictures and sending them to the animal’s screen, for example. The researchers felt that these interactive games helped visitors feel connected to the animals while improving quality of life for captive primates.

The team’s findings suggest that digital technology can be used to provide better enrichment for primates living in captivity. The researchers believe interactive games show a lot of promise for this purpose but that further research should be conducted.


Kim-McCormack N, Smith CL, Behie AM. Is interactive technology a relevant and effective enrichment for captive great apes? Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2016).

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