was born at Basel Zoo on 27 September. This baby chimpanzee is now seeing the
beginnings of a collaboration between the University of Neuchâtel and Basel
Zoo, researching how apes communicate and learn.
Obaye is the
son of female chimpanzee Kitoko (24) and is the youngest offshoot of Basel
Zoo’s twelve-strong group of chimpanzees. At the moment, he is still too small
to take part, but eventually Obaye will also be carrying out the tasks which
the chimpanzees are being set.
Neuchâtel research at Basel Zoo
A group of
researchers from the University of Neuchâtel (led by Prof. Klaus Zuberbühler)
is interested in how apes absorb and process information and how they solve
problems. Scientists call this cognitive research. The tasks appear on a screen
installed in the enclosure: for example, the chimpanzee must identify a tree
from among other objects. If they tap the right solution on the touch screen,
they automatically receive a small reward. The next step tests whether their
ability to identify the image changes if it is accompanied by a sound
recording. The researchers gradually set increasingly complex tasks – their
long-term objective is to study how apes communicate and how this affects
learning and memory.
help the chimpanzees learn how to work the screen, the first task was a simple
one: the screen lit up green and the chimpanzee touched it for a reward. The
chimpanzees have access to the screen for two hours every working day, and then
they have the weekends ‘free’, although this is more to do with the
researchers’ workload than that of the chimpanzees. All members of the
chimpanzee group who enjoy completing the task are able to do so, whilst those
who are not interested can simply ignore the screen. Whilst some of Basel’s
chimpanzees eagerly collected their rewards, Colebe (12) was only interested in
the tasks and left the tasty morsels behind. New mother Kitoko has not shown
any interest in the screen, as she is currently busy with her little one.
as zoo keepers
and orangutan enclosures will soon also be fitted with screens to allow a
comparison of cognitive abilities in the three primate species. The researchers
have been trained by Basel Zoo’s zoo keepers to allow them to work near the
apes, and they are also helping with everyday animal care: it is not just the
apes but also the zoo keepers who are being set new tasks as a result of the
university collaboration, so assistance with everyday work is welcome. The
collaboration with the University of Neuchâtel is still in its infancy – the
project is designed to last for several years and should help us to study the
cognitive abilities of our closest relatives.