Developing a methodology for cognitive research with socially-housed chacma baboons.
Testing on laboratory-housed primates has long been the standard for research in cognitive psychology and other areas. As an alternative to this, a group of socially housed chacma baboons (Papio hamadrayas ursinus) at the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education near Phalaborwa in Limpopo Province, South Africa, were the subjects for a set of basic cognitive tests. The purpose of the tests was to explore the importance of analogical reasoning by means of testing perceptual and conceptual skills in baboons. The main aim of this research is to investigate the degree to which captive but socially housed baboons are useful as experimental subjects, and to develop an apparatus and protocol to perform these tests in situ in the baboons' home cages. Five baboons were chosen as the subjects for experimentation. All subjects completed three groups of tasks to a criterion of at least 80% success over four successive experiments. The tasks tested baboons' discrimination ability between two coloured tiles, a reversal of that same discrimination task, and a simple match to- sample task. As a result of time constraints, further tasks testing conceptual ability had to be abandoned. A record was kept of environmental and social factors that may have influenced the motivation of the subjects. The time taken to complete each experiment correlated in many cases with the number of distractions experienced by the subjects. There appeared to be no significant correlation between the score attained by a subject and the number of distractions experienced by that subject. The greater number of distractions experienced by the subjects was a result of the more engaged social world in which these baboons exist. Consequently, their motivation to perform repetitive cognitive tests was decreased, and needed to be countered in novel ways. An apparatus and a protocol for testing under these conditions were developed. Testing baboons' cognitive skills in these circumstances is both possible and desirable for ethical reasons, though the process takes longer than under laboratory conditions.