The role of great ape behavioral ecology in One Health: implications for captive welfare and re-habilitation success

Jackie Chappell*, Susannah K. S. Thorpe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Behavior is the interface through which animals interact with their environments, and therefore has potentially cascading impacts on the health of individuals, populations, their habitats, and the humans that share them. Evolution has shaped the interaction between species and their environments. Thus, alterations to the species-typical “wild-type” behavioral repertoire (and the ability of the individual to adapt flexibly which elements of the repertoire it employs) may disrupt the relationship between the organism and its environment, creating cascading One Health effects. A good example is rehabilitant orangutans where, for example, seemingly minor differences from wild conspecifics in the time spent traveling on the ground rather than in the forest canopy can affect an individual's musculoskeletal and nutritional health, as well as social integration. It can also increase two-way transmission of infectious diseases and/or pathogens with local human populations, or potentially with neighboring wild populations if there are no geographical barriers and rehabilitants travel far enough to leave their release area. Primates are well known ecosystem engineers, reshaping plant communities and maintaining biodiversity through seed dispersal, consuming plants, and creating canopy gaps and trails. From the habitat perspective, a rehabilitant orangutan which does not behave like a wild orangutan is unlikely to fulfill these same ecosystem services. Despite the importance of the diversity of an ape's behavioral repertoire, how it compares to that of wild conspecifics and how it alters in response to habitat variation, behavior is an often under-appreciated aspect of One Health. In this review, focusing on orangutans as an example of the kinds of problems faced by all captive great apes, we examine the ways in which understanding and facilitating the expression of wild-type behavior can improve their health, their ability to thrive, and the robustness of local One Health systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere23328
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican journal of primatology
Issue number4-5
Early online date13 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to all the staff at Samboja Lestari Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre (Bornean Orangutan Survival Foundation, BOSF) and Mefou (Ape Action Africa, AAA) for their partnership in the projects which have informed this review, particularly Fransiska Sulistyo, Agus Sugiyanto, Dion Nurcahyo and Hamdani (BOSF), and Rachel Hogan, Alejandro Benítez López, Tamara de Juana, and Gerry Wamba (AAA). Our colleagues Julia Myatt, Emily Tarrega, Nardie Hanson and Johanna Neufuss, and the OVAG and PASA communities have been instrumental in shaping the Enclosure Design Tool, and we thank Steve Unwin and Fransiska Sulistyo for his helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This study was funded by the ARCUS Foundation (R‐PGM‐1902‐2936; G‐PGM‐1610‐1983); the Natural Environment Research Council NE/R00272X/1; NE/M021300), The International Primatological Society and the DM France‐Hayhurst Fund.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. American Journal of Primatology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • great apes
  • behavior
  • orangutan
  • One Health
  • re-habilitation
  • captivity
  • great ape

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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