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Article

Exploratory Investigation of Infrared Thermography for Measuring Gorilla Emotional Responses to Interactions with Familiar Humans

Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics, Detroit Zoological Society, Royal Oak, MI 48067, USA
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Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
These authors contributed equally to this work.
Animals 2019, 9(9), 604; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090604
Received: 29 July 2019 / Revised: 8 August 2019 / Accepted: 21 August 2019 / Published: 25 August 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Human Influences on the Behaviour and Welfare of Zoo Animals)
Interactions between zoo professionals and animals, such as positive reinforcement training, occur regularly and are thought to be enriching for animals. However, there is little empirical information on how animals perceive these interactions or on the interactions’ effects on animals’ emotional states. Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of infrared thermography for measuring the emotional responses of three western lowland gorillas at the Detroit Zoo to routine interactions (positive reinforcement training and cognitive tasks) with familiar humans. In addition to thermal images, we collected saliva samples for hormone analysis before and after human–animal interactions and a control condition, and we recorded behavioral data during all conditions. Nasal temperatures consistently decreased for two gorillas during interactions, while the third gorilla showed repeated increases. The behavior of all three gorillas suggested that they were engaged in the interactions, without exhibiting behaviors that could indicate negative welfare impacts. Oxytocin and cortisol both decreased following all conditions, including the control, and were thus equivocal for interpreting the meaning of the changes in nasal temperature. As mixed results in previous research show, infrared thermography may detect emotional arousal; however, additional indicators are necessary to determine the valence of the observed changes. The variability in responses we observed do not lend themselves to making firm conclusions about the validity of infrared thermography (IRT) for measuring emotion in this context or about how these gorillas responded to interactions. Challenges and suggestions for future studies using infrared thermography to examine interactions between humans and zoo animals are discussed.
Interactions between zoo professionals and animals occur regularly and are believed to be enriching for animals. Little empirical information exists on how animals perceive these interactions, and particularly how the interactions affect the emotional states of animals. Infrared thermography (IRT) has shown some promise in the assessment of emotions in a variety of species, but further research is needed to determine if this method is useful in a zoo setting. We conducted a pilot study to determine if IRT is a valid measure of the emotional responses to routine interactions (positive reinforcement training and cognitive tasks, compared to a control condition) with familiar humans on three western lowland gorillas at the Detroit Zoo. We measured nasal temperatures associated with emotional change using IRT. To examine the validity of the IRT data, we collected saliva samples for hormone analysis before and after each condition, in addition to behavioral data during the interactions and control condition. Decreases in nasal temperatures for two gorillas and an increase in the third indicate that arousal changed consistently within individuals following the interactions but not the control condition. Pre-post cortisol levels and oxytocin concentrations decreased for all conditions, but the decreases seen did not differ among the conditions. The gorillas were highly engaged in the interactions, and two produced more grumble vocalizations during the human-animal interactions (HAIs) compared to the control condition. Additionally, the gorillas performed self-directed behaviors more often during the control condition, also suggesting HAIs were not a negative experience. In summary, we were able to measure changes in arousal using IRT, but we were unable to determine the emotional valence of these changes based on the additional indicators employed. Additionally, the inconsistency across these measures precluded firm conclusions about either the validity of IRT for measuring emotion in this context or how the interactions impacted these gorillas. These findings highlight the challenges of using IRT to measure emotional states in non-human animals, and we discuss further steps necessary to apply this method in future studies. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare; human–animal interactions; infrared thermography; cortisol; oxytocin; positive reinforcement training; cognitive task; gorilla; emotion animal welfare; human–animal interactions; infrared thermography; cortisol; oxytocin; positive reinforcement training; cognitive task; gorilla; emotion
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MDPI and ACS Style

Heintz, M.R.; Fuller, G.; Allard, S. Exploratory Investigation of Infrared Thermography for Measuring Gorilla Emotional Responses to Interactions with Familiar Humans. Animals 2019, 9, 604. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090604

AMA Style

Heintz MR, Fuller G, Allard S. Exploratory Investigation of Infrared Thermography for Measuring Gorilla Emotional Responses to Interactions with Familiar Humans. Animals. 2019; 9(9):604. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090604

Chicago/Turabian Style

Heintz, Matthew R., Grace Fuller, and Stephanie Allard. 2019. "Exploratory Investigation of Infrared Thermography for Measuring Gorilla Emotional Responses to Interactions with Familiar Humans" Animals 9, no. 9: 604. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9090604

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