Responses to Novel Foods in Captive Chimpanzees

Elisabetta Visalberghi, Masako Myowa-Yamakoshi, Satoshi Hirata, Tetsuro Matsuzawa
DOI: 10.1002/zoo.10057


Hesitancy to eat novel foods hampers the immediate enlargement of the diet but serves to limit the risk of ingesting toxic foods. Neophobia has been systematically investigated in only a few primate species, in which it appears to be affected by social influences. Surprisingly, little is known about neophobia in chimpanzees. We studied the response of eight adult captive chimpanzees to 16 foods (foods commonly eaten by humans and never tasted before by chimpanzees). Each novel food was presented twice to the chimpanzee by a familiar or an unfamiliar human. Between the two trials the human ate the food face to face with the chimpanzee (demonstration). Results showed that some foods were almost unanimously accepted, whereas others were not. Moreover, there were marked interindividual differences in food acceptance and consumption; chimpanzees ranged from being almost completely neophobic to accepting almost all foods. Familiarity with the human and the human's demonstration did not affect responses to the foods. The humans' predictions concerning the chimpanzees' acceptance of the different foods were rather good; furthermore, in seven cases out of eight the humans' preferences did not correlate with their predictions on the chimpanzees' preferences. The finding that most captive chimpanzees are initially cautious toward novel foods supports the little information there is regarding this subject in wild chimpanzees. However, the lack of influence of the humans' familiarity and demonstration on the response to food by the chimpanzees calls for more naturalistic studies, in which social influences are provided by group members. Since novel stimuli provide sensory stimulation and elicit exploration and social interest, occasional presentation of novel foods could be a promising and cheap device for feeding enrichment.


chimpanzees, food neophobia, social influences, enrichment,

Article Information
Visalberghi E, Myowa-Yamakoshi M, Hirata S, Matsuzawa T(2002)Responses to Novel Foods in Captive Chimpanzees Zoo Biology, 21:539-548.
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