Animal Cognition

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 395–405 | Cite as

Gibbon travel paths are goal oriented

  • Norberto Asensio
  • Warren Y. Brockelman
  • Suchinda Malaivijitnond
  • Ulrich H. Reichard
Original Paper


Remembering locations of food resources is critical for animal survival. Gibbons are territorial primates which regularly travel through small and stable home ranges in search of preferred, limited and patchily distributed resources (primarily ripe fruit). They are predicted to profit from an ability to memorize the spatial characteristics of their home range and may increase their foraging efficiency by using a ‘cognitive map’ either with Euclidean or with topological properties. We collected ranging and feeding data from 11 gibbon groups (Hylobates lar) to test their navigation skills and to better understand gibbons’ ‘spatial intelligence’. We calculated the locations at which significant travel direction changes occurred using the change-point direction test and found that these locations primarily coincided with preferred fruit sources. Within the limits of biologically realistic visibility distances observed, gibbon travel paths were more efficient in detecting known preferred food sources than a heuristic travel model based on straight travel paths in random directions. Because consecutive travel change-points were far from the gibbons’ sight, planned movement between preferred food sources was the most parsimonious explanation for the observed travel patterns. Gibbon travel appears to connect preferred food sources as expected under the assumption of a good mental representation of the most relevant sources in a large-scale space.


Travel change-point Cognitive map Spatial memory Gibbons Hylobates lar 



We want to thank R.W. Byrne, R. Noser and L.A. Bates for kindly providing help, instructions and useful comments for correctly performing the CPT test in R and interpreting its results. C. Sangnate, S. Homros and W. Tetsarai are acknowledged for all their help during data collection at Khao Yai National Park. We also thank U. Martmoon, R. Samnuek, P. Wonksorn, T. Ong-In, T. Savini, A. Alberts and J.F. Maxwell for botanical assistance. We are grateful to the staff of Khao Yai National Park and especially to M. Ganpanakngan and P. Chanteap. Our gratitude also goes to the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) and the National Park Division (DNP) for allowing us to conduct research in Thailand. This research was possible due to the Postdoc Fellowship program from Mahidol University, Thailand (to N.A) and a grant from the L.S.B. Leakey foundation (to U.R). This study complied with current laws of the NRCT and DNP in Thailand.

Supplementary material

10071_2010_374_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (336 kb)
Supplementary material 1. Diet of the gibbon study groups during observation period (ordered in chronological time). Created with Office 2007. (PDF 335 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norberto Asensio
    • 1
  • Warren Y. Brockelman
    • 1
  • Suchinda Malaivijitnond
    • 2
  • Ulrich H. Reichard
    • 3
  1. 1.Conservation Genetics and Ecology Group, Institute of Molecular BiosciencesMahidol UniversityNakhorn PathonThailand
  2. 2.Primate Research Unit, Department of Biology, Faculty of ScienceChulalongkorn UniversityBangkokThailand
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologySouthern Illinois UniversityCarbondaleUSA

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