Project (2015-ongoing) Social monitoring in a group of zoo-housed gorillas

Maintaining group cohesion is of paramount importance in the face of predation and conspecific threat. Primates have various ‘tools’ at their disposal to ‘cultivate’ social relationships which may contribute to within-group harmony.

It has been argued that social grooming plays an essential role in group cohesion in non-human primates. Spatial proximity has also been traditionally used by primatologists and behavioural scientists as a proxy measures for bond strength. However, there may be alternative mechanisms by which individuals can express affinity in social settings.

Social monitoring (i.e. visual monitoring of conspecifics, particularly fellow group members) could provide a direct measure of social interest and be a valuable indicator of relationship quality of group members, but this is a little explored theme. In humans, social monitoring and fixed gaze is an important sign of romantic engagement and it is to be expected to have a similar function in non-human primates.

This project aims to address the following questions:

1) Do gorillas monitor conspecifics to a) avoid conflicts (e.g. more monitoring of dominant individuals), b) to establish/enhance bonds, or c) to engage in copulations?

2) Do gorillas monitor conspecifics more often than the public?

3) Does the degree of monitoring conspecifics vs. the public differ between age-sex classes?


Melbourne Zoo


Natasha Coutts