Is interactive technology a relevant and effective enrichment for captive great apes?

Nicky N. E. Kim-McCormack, Carolynn L. Smith, Alison M. Behie

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


All non-human great apes are endangered, and for these animals, captive individuals play an important role in the species’ conservation management plan. Therefore, information about their current enrichment activities is essential for maintaining a healthy captive population. This paper reviews research where digital media is used as cognitive enrichment for great apes with a particular focus on orangutans, and assesses its appropriateness and relevance for current and future enrichment programs. The paper provides a holistic overview of topical issues surrounding primates in captivity, including a discussion of primate cognitive abilities, current institutional enrichment strategies and practices, and a chronological review of how digital media technologies have performed within this paradigm. The paper also covers issues in enrichment such as the concept of the power of control, natural versus non-natural enrichment, naturalism/anthropomorphism, stimulation versus stereotypy, and respecting individualism in great apes. This review reveals that as technologies advance interactive digital applications will become increasingly relevant for captive great apes and other primates because of its ability to provide improved solutions where traditional non-digital enrichment may have either failed or proven less efficient. It also highlights the importance of considering the preferences and differences in cognitive abilities of each individual when selecting particular digital enrichment activities. A wide variety of factors including life history, species, sex, age, previous enrichment experience, training routines and methods, and housing conditions will all affect the success of digital media enrichment. With this in mind, this paper identifies gaps in current knowledge, highlighting the need for further studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016


  • Anthropomorphism
  • Captive animals
  • Environmental enrichment
  • Free-choice
  • Great apes
  • Human-animal interaction
  • Interactive digital technology
  • Sanctuary animals
  • Zoo


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