Date & Time

3rd (Tue) March 2020
17:00- (18:30)


Large Conference Room, PRI

Dr. Christopher Flynn Martin
Life Sciences Department, Indianapolis Zoo
Designing a digital forest for zoo-housed chimpanzees

Chimpanzees in the wild regularly face a variety of challenges related to finding food, navigating through dense forests, attracting mates, guarding resources, and patrolling territories. Overcoming these challenges requires a repertoire of cognitive and physical skills and strategies, the success or failure of which can have short-term consequences on health and well-being, as well as long-term impacts on fitness from an evolutionary perspective. For chimpanzees in zoos, these challenges are often greatly reduced or altogether eliminated, and as a result the need for relying on species-typical behavior and cognitive processes is diminished. To remedy this trend, there is growing interest among zoo professionals to design functionally naturalistic exhibit features that elicit the same mental and physical processes that are routinely relied upon by wild animals. Toward this end, the Indianapolis Zoo is designing a new chimpanzee exhibit that will employ a “digital forest” consisting of several large enclosures connected to each other by a network of corridors. Multiple touchscreen stations and button-operated feeding devices will be spread around the enclosures and corridors to encourage natural foraging and exploration behaviors. Moreover, by varying the difficulty of the tasks running on the touchscreens and the timing of their availability, the chimpanzees will be compelled to make choices between staying and exploiting a specific station or travelling to a different one for potentially greater food rewards. This kind of exploitation versus exploration game theoretic scenario, often referred to as the “multi-armed bandit problem”, is a challenge routinely faced by animals foraging for food in the wild, and the new digital forest exhibit will seek to recreate it in a zoo-setting.