My research assistants and I collect behavioral and spatial data every 2-3 minutes on each of the 10 gorillas sharing habitat 3 at Zoo Atlanta, an methodology which has been ongoing since June 2017. We do this via programs on Apple iPads (TM), and mounted cameras within the habitat. In a few weeks, an artificial termite mound will be installed in this habitat and we will continue to record the gorillas' behaviors, social spacing, and inter-individual interactions, ESPECIALLY around this new feature. The termite mound (though it would be inhabited by termites in the wild), will be filled on a randomized schedule with viscous foods such as oatmeal and peanut butter. It will be up to the gorillas to navigate this new problem-solving opportunity to access these delicious foods with "tools" (such as sticks and branches) that they find in their habitat.
Gorillas can be relatively skittish animals (despite their enormous size), so it is possible that they will not want to interact with the termite mound for a while. In this case, we can encourage their interaction with the mound by placing some of their preferential daily diet foods (vegetables, fruits, etc.) near this feature.
Data will be analyzed via ArcGIS software to calculate spatial relationships between gorillas, as well as their group dispersion. Social situations within 6 meters of the termite mound will also be analyzed behaviorally, to determine which individuals have priority access to the mound and which ones are excluded. Since adult female gorillas have a linear dominance hierarchy (determined by age and tenure in their group), we hypothesize that female Kuchi will have priority access to the termite mound. Kuchi is 33 years old, and has been a part of her group (with silverback Taz) since it's original formation.
Browse the protocols that are part of the experimental methods.