Captive vs. Wild

In order to study topics in animal cognition, researchers often rely on working with animals housed in captive settings as this allows for better access to them in a controlled environment. However, can we rely on captive animals to inform us of the cognitive abilities of their wild counterparts? In addition to Dr. Benson-Amram’s work with hyena, studies have shown that captive individuals tend to preform better on innovative problem-solving tasks than wild individuals (Webster & Lefebvre 2001; Gajdon et al. 2004; Bouchard et al. 2007; Benson-Amram et al., 2012). This is an interesting observation as we often see general differences in the behavior of captive vs. wild animals. Comparative studies between members of the same species living in different environments can not only help us gauge the capacity of a species to innovate and problem-solve, but also shed light on the likelihood of that species to do so in it’s natural environment. It has also been suggested that the constraints imposed by a captive environment might show similarity to the constraints of a rapidly changing environment (Mason et al., 2013). If so, this would allow us to better understand how a species might cope with human-induced changes to the environment, such as urbanization, based on their ability to thrive in a captive environment.

Benson-Amram, S., Weldele, M., Holekamp, K. (2012). A comparison of innovative problem-solving abilities between wild and captive spotted hyaenas, Crocuta crocuta. Animal Behaviour, 85(2), 349-356.
Bouchard, J., Goodyer, W. & Lefebvre. L. (2007). Social learning and innovation are positively correlated in pigeons (Columba livia). Animal Cognition, 10, 259-266.
Gajdon, G., Fijn, N. & Huber, L. (2004). Testing social learning in a wild mountain parrot, the kea (Nestor notabilis). Learning & Behavior, 32, 62-71.
Webster, S. and Lefebvre, L. (2001). Problem solving and neophobia in a columbiform–passeriform assemblage in Barbados. Animal Behaviour, 62, 23–32.