Just as humans travel distances to their favourite food joint, chimpanzees will travel a farther distance for preferred food sources in non-wild habitats, a new study indicates.
A 15-month-long study led by Lydia Hopper of the Lester Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at Lincoln Park Zoo, suggests that the apes are willing to travel farther to get the goodies they prefer.
In order to receive a food reward, the chimpanzees had to collect tokens, or small lengths of PVC pipe, from a single location. The chimpanzees could then exchange the tokens with researchers at one of two locations — a close location with a carrot reward or a far location with a grape reward. By the third phase (30 sessions per phase), as a group, the chimpanzees preferred to travel farther in order to get the better food item (grapes), said the paper that appeared in the journal PeerJ.
“It was quite fascinating to see the developments between each of the three phases of the token exchange study. In addition to learning about food preferences and proximity, we also observed innovative, problem-solving behaviour among the chimpanzees,” Hopper said.
Interestingly, the first chimpanzee to discover the better reward being offered at the far location was a female named Chuckie, who is the lowest-status female in the group. The far location may have been preferred for not only its food reward, but because it gave her an opportunity to avoid competition from higher-status chimpanzees at the close location.
All of the chimpanzees in this study demonstrated flexible foraging strategies with minimal scrounging from one another. “Understanding the animals’ preferences and exploration of their habitat is critical to caring for these animals,” the authors concluded.