The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Application of human-based sensory integration therapy for improving the well-being of a captive chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)


1Anthropology, Bridgewater State University, 2Research, The Spiral Foundation, 3Great Apes, Saint Louis Zoo, 4Animal Care, Center for the Great Apes, 5Neurology, Harvard Medical School, 6Neurology and Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital

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Holly is a young adult female chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) at the Saint Louis Zoo who was identified with sensory integration and processing difficulties in 2009. At that time, she was conspicuous in range and frequency of stereotypies, restricted social interactions, lack of rest times and poor occupational performance in routine activities. Holly’s abnormal behavior tended to isolate her and affected some social dynamics of the entire chimpanzee group, for example, through avoidance behavior. To improve Holly’s situation, a plan providing therapeutic intervention based on human sensory integration theory was implemented. Frequencies of behavioral activity and social interactions were assessed using one-minute interval focal individual sampling to provide baseline, pre-intervention, and post-intervention data.

Prior to the application of sensory integration therapy, Holly’s behavior differed from her peers and was consistent over a period of more than one year. Therapy intervention occurred over several weeks in late 2010 and early 2011, providing enhanced sensory inputs through various environmental enrichment and keeper directed activities. Following intervention, Holly demonstrated significant gains in some measures, especially in the indoor enclosure. Of particular note was a drop in stereotypies, from 21.5% to 6.5% of observed intervals. Increased positive social and occupational behaviors were also observed. Holly continued to have difficulty in the more stressful outdoor environment which provides higher levels of potentially overwhelming sensory inputs. Widespread application of occupational therapy and sensory integration theory to zoological management may be possible.

Funding for this project has been provided by a gift from the Roberts Family (Bauman), the Center for the Advancement of Research and Teaching at Bridgewater State University (Ingmanson), and the Maxwell Hurston Charitable Foundation (May-Benson).

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