Water games by mountain gorillas: implications for behavioral development and flexibility—a case report

Abstract

Functions of play, which may be performed solo or in a social context, include motor training and behavioral flexibility. Play is often more common in infancy and the juvenile period, although it also occurs in adults of many species. In contrast to social play, few studies have investigated solitary play. Here, we present new empirical data on solitary water play in a subadult and two adult mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, observed on three different days between January and February 2018. Focal sampling was used to record the behavior of the individuals interacting with water. Movements included vigorous rotation of the arms, splashing the water, tilting the head, making a play face, and sweeping with the hands to create waves on the water surface. One of the episodes represents the first vigorous display of splashing water ever reported for Bwindi gorillas. Our observations highlight three significant components of mountain gorilla development and behavior: play, behavioral flexibility, and exploration.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by the Leading Graduate Program in Primatology and Wildlife Science, Kyoto University, by a Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) (MEXT KAKENHI) #16H06283 to Tetsuro Matsuzawa, #15H05709 to Masaki Tomonaga, and by JSPS Core-to-Core A. Advanced Research Networks to Tetsuro Matsuzawa. A special appreciation to Prof. Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Prof. Fred Bercovitch, Prof. Colin Chapman, Dr. Angela Brandao, and Dr. Lilly Arajova for their support and helpful comments. We are very grateful to Conservation Through Public Health staff members and volunteers. Our deep gratitude goes to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology for giving permission to conduct this research. We are forever in doubt to UWA trackers for their patience and help during the field work. We also thankful to the Buhoma and Mukuno local community for their hospitality. Two anonymous referees provided very valuable comments for improving this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Raquel Costa.

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Costa, R., Hayashi, M., Huffman, M.A. et al. Water games by mountain gorillas: implications for behavioral development and flexibility—a case report. Primates 60, 493–498 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-019-00749-6

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Keywords

  • Solitary play
  • Water interactions
  • Mountain gorillas
  • Exploration
  • Behavioral flexibility