Dr. Neil Mennie, a neuroscientist in Malaysia, believes the eye movements of an orangutan at the country’s National Zoo may hold the key to improved quality of life in captivity, as well as in the wild.
In order to learn more about the orangutan’s feelings and interests behind bars, scientists fitted Tsunami with two cameras- one that records what she sees, and the other the movement of her right eye. The purpose of the exercise is to “bring about improvement in the lives of captive apes,” according to Reuters.
Dr. Mennie believes the eye movements will reveal Tsunami’s level of engagement with different activities, and enable zoos to enhance apes’ lifestyles and living conditions.
“I think this is going to give me a lot of important data on their special memory, for example, their visual attention, and how they basically just coordinate actions with four different limbs,” Mennie explained.
Muhammad Daniel Felix, Deputy Director of the Malaysia National Zoo, said the experiment’s findings may have a significant impact on the zoo’s practices.
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“There is a very strong movement on the welfare, taking care of the welfare and ethics of animals in captivity,” he explained. “By having this experiment, or the results, it will help… We will be able to identify what actually stimulates the animal in captivity. So we can use the results to improve our exhibit design, how we take care of the animals, what to put inside the exhibit…”
Mennie believes the findings will also unlock new information regarding orangutan’s behavior in the wild as well, such as foraging strategies, locations, and the value of different rewards.