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Testing the Effect of Medical Positive Reinforcement Training on Salivary Cortisol Levels in Bonobos and Orangutans

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

The management of captive animals has been improved by the establishment of positive reinforcement training as a tool to facilitate interactions between caretakers and animals. In great apes, positive reinforcement training has also been used to train individuals to participate in simple medical procedures to monitor physical health. One aim of positive reinforcement training is to establish a relaxed atmosphere for situations that, without training, might be very stressful. This is especially true for simple medical procedures that can require animals to engage in behaviours that are unusual or use unfamiliar medical devices that can be upsetting. Therefore, one cannot exclude the possibility that the training itself is a source of stress. In this study, we explored the effects of medical positive reinforcement training on salivary cortisol in two groups of captive ape species, orangutans and bonobos, which were familiar to this procedure. Furthermore, we successfully biologically validated the salivary cortisol assay, which had already been validated for bonobos, for orangutans. For the biological validation, we found that cortisol levels in orangutan saliva collected during baseline conditions were lower than in samples collected during three periods that were potentially stressful for the animals. However, we did not find significant changes in salivary cortisol during medical positive reinforcement training for either bonobos or orangutans. Therefore, for bonobos and orangutans with previous exposure to medical PRT, the procedure is not stressful. Thus, medical PRT provides a helpful tool for the captive management of the two species.

Journal: PLoS ONE
Issue: 9
Volume: 9
Pages: e108664 EP -
Publication year:2014