Next Article in Journal
Amino Acids Influencing Intestinal Development and Health of the Piglets
Next Article in Special Issue
The Social Rank of Zoo-Housed Japanese Macaques is a Predictor of Visitor-Directed Aggression
Previous Article in Journal
Intestinal Morphology in Broiler Chickens Supplemented with Propolis and Bee Pollen
Previous Article in Special Issue
Effects of Regulating Visitor Viewing Proximity and the Intensity of Visitor Behaviour on Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) Behaviour and Welfare
Open AccessArticle

Orangutans’ Comprehension of Zoo Keepers’ Communicative Signals

Institut Jean Nicod, Département d’Etudes Cognitives, ENS, EHESS, PSL Research University, CNRS, 29 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris, France
Department of Experimental Psychology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes, DGD Musées, Jardins et Zoos, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 57 rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France
Department of Linguistics, New York University, 10 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003, USA
Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, Département d’Etudes Cognitives, ENS, PSL Research University, EHESS, CNRS, 29 rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris, France
Unité Eco-anthropologie UMR 7206, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, CNRS, Université Paris Diderot, 17 place du Trocadéro, 75116 Paris, France
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(6), 300;
Received: 26 April 2019 / Revised: 22 May 2019 / Accepted: 27 May 2019 / Published: 31 May 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Human Influences on the Behaviour and Welfare of Zoo Animals)
Most modern zoos work towards the promotion of captive animals’ welfare. One way of achieving this is by encouraging cooperative interactions between keepers and zoo animals, for instance during sessions of conditioning training. To be most effective, communication between them should use those channels that are most useful to the animals. In this study, we asked whether captive orangutans were capable of understanding keepers’ instructions when they were employing words only, gazes only, gestures only, or all signal types combined. Our results indicate that the subjects only need gestures to respond to the keepers’ instructions. In two other experiments, we examined why gestures were so effective. One hypothesis was that they resemble what they refer to. However, we found no indication that gestures providing iconicity or even pointing could help orangutans acquire associations between a new gesture and referent. Our results suggest that, among human communicative signals, captive orangutans would prefer gestures. Why this is the case should be the focus of future research.
Zoological institutions often encourage cooperative interactions between keepers and animals so as to promote animals’ welfare. One useful technique has been conditioning training, whereby animals learn to respond to keepers’ requests, which facilitates a number of, otherwise sensitive, daily routines. As various media have been used to convey keepers’ instructions, the question remains of which modality is best to promote mutual understanding. Here, we explored this question with two captive female orangutans. In the first experiment, we compared orangutans’ understanding of previously acquired instructions when those were performed with verbal signals only, gazes only, gestures only, and when all those modalities were combined. Our results showed that gestures were sufficient for successful comprehension by these two apes. In the second experiment, we asked whether this preference could be driven by the non-arbitrary relationship that gestures bear to what they refer to, through iconicity or pointing. Our results revealed that neither iconicity nor pointing helped the subjects comprehend the keepers’ instructions. Our results indicate a preference for instructions given through gestural signals in two captive female orangutans, although its cause remains elusive. Future practice may encourage the use of gestures in communication between keepers and orangutans in general or potentially other animals. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare; medical training; gestures; speech; inter-species communication; orangutans animal welfare; medical training; gestures; speech; inter-species communication; orangutans
Show Figures

Figure 1

MDPI and ACS Style

Dezecache, G.; Bourgeois, A.; Bazin, C.; Schlenker, P.; Chemla, E.; Maille, A. Orangutans’ Comprehension of Zoo Keepers’ Communicative Signals. Animals 2019, 9, 300.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats
Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Article Access Map by Country/Region

Search more from Scilit
Back to TopTop