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Chimpanzee behaviour to be studied at Edinburgh Zoo

Researchers say observing the primates will help understand their links to humans.

A new state-of-the-art research facility looking into chimpanzee behaviour has been launched at Edinburgh Zoo.

The Budongo Research Unit is an extension of the site’s Budongo Trail enclosure which allows visitors to see the primates in an interactive complex.

The chimpanzees will learn to manipulate, touch or simply watch objects they are presented with, such as a puzzle box or images on a monitor or computer screen.

Researchers will observe and record their behaviour using video, eye-tracking technology, computerised recording, touch-sensitive screens and thermal imaging.

Professor Josep Call, from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews, which will lead the research unit in partnership with the zoo, is the research unit’s director.

He said: “The Budongo Research Unit is a state-of-the-art facility that allows us to use the latest technology to investigate the cognition and behaviour of chimpanzees.

“We study not just one aspect but multiple aspects such as communication, social learning and co-ordination.

“We study the behaviour of chimpanzees and this comparison is crucial to be able to elucidate how cognition evolves.

“By studying our closest primate living relatives it can give us clues about how our own cognitive abilities developed.”

The research is observational, with each chimpanzee free to choose whether or not to interact with studies that will assess how the animals think, learn and communicate.

Dr Charlotte Macdonald, director of Conservation and Living Collections at RZSS, said: “The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland is at the forefront of conservation and research relating to endangered species.

“Through collaborative projects such as the Budongo Research Unit we can continue to make global advances for conservation and animals.

“The studies carried out at Budongo enhance our knowledge of chimpanzees and how they interact with the world around them.

“This information will contribute to the continued protection and conservation of this endangered species and their wild habitats.

“As well as contributing to significant research, the games and puzzles presented add an additional mentally stimulating dimension to the lives of our chimpanzees.”

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