Novelty Response of Wild African Apes to Camera Traps


Ammie K. Kalan, Gottfried Hohmann, Mimi Arandjelovic, Christophe Boesch, Maureen S. McCarthy, Anthony Agbor, Samuel Angedakin, Emma Bailey, Cosma Wilungula Balongelwa, Mattia Bessone, Gaëlle Bocksberger, Sally Jewel Coxe, Tobias Deschner, Marie-Lyne Després-Einspenner, Paula Dieguez, Barbara Fruth, Ilka Herbinger, Anne-Céline Granjon, Josephine Head, Yves Aka Kablan, Kevin E. Langergraber, Albert Lotana Lokasola, Giovanna Maretti, Sergio Marrocoli, Menard Mbende, Jennifer Moustgaard, Paul Kouame N’Goran, Martha M. Robbins, Joost van Schijndel, Volker Sommer, Martin Surbeck, Nikki Tagg, Jacob Willie, Roman M. Wittig, and Hjalmar S. Kühl. 2019. “Novelty Response of Wild African Apes to Camera Traps.” Current Biology, 29, 7, Pp. 1211 - 1217.e3.


Summary Temperament and personality research in humans and nonhuman animals measures behavioral variation in individual, population, or species-specific traits with implications for survival and fitness, such as social status, foraging, and mating success [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Curiosity and risk-taking tendencies have been studied extensively across taxa by measuring boldness and exploration responses to experimental novelty exposure [3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15]. Here, we conduct a natural field experiment using wildlife monitoring technology to test variation in the reaction of wild great apes (43 groups of naive chimpanzees, bonobos, and western gorillas across 14 field sites in Africa) to a novel object, the camera trap. Bonobo and gorilla groups demonstrated a stronger looking impulse toward the camera trap device compared to chimpanzees, suggesting higher visual attention and curiosity. Bonobos were also more likely to show alarm and other fearful behaviors, although such neophobic (and conversely, neophilic) responses were generally rare. Among all three species, individuals looked at cameras longer when they were young, were associating with fewer individuals, and did not live near a long-term research site. Overall, these findings partially validate results from great ape novelty paradigms in captivity [7, 8]. We further suggest that species-typical leadership styles [16] and social and environmental effects, including familiarity with humans, best explain novelty responses of wild great apes. In sum, this study illustrates the feasibility of large-scale field experiments and the importance of both intrinsic and extrinsic factors in shaping animal curiosity. Video Abstract