Enclosure Design Tool

The Enclosure Design Tool (EDT)

The EDT is an interactive, computer interface that gives zoos and sanctuaries the ability to compare the behaviour of their chimpanzees and orangutans to the latest research on wild populations. It helps them use that information to create physically and mentally stimulating enclosures that mimic the physical and mechanical challenges wild great apes face in the forest canopy.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has predicted that all non-human great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos) could be extinct in the wild within a human generation. The ability of sanctuaries to reintroduce great apes back into the wild, and of zoos to conserve the species while meeting their welfare needs, relies on encouraging the apes to exhibit the behaviours that are a vital part of the species’ ability to survive in the natural environment. Our focus on replicating the mechanical challenges of forest life is designed to directly address this problem.

The results so far are excellent; for example the EDT has substantially increased the level of arboreal locomotion in chimps at our Partner Twycross Zoo and has instigated key wildtype behaviours that had been absent. The EDT has tremendous promise to improve the lives of captive great apes and to help prepare those rescued by sanctuaries for life back in the wild.

a chimpanzee at Twycross explores its enclosure after modifications guided by the EDT

A chimpanzee at Twycross explores its enclosure after modifications guided by the EDT
Photo: James McDonald

How does it work? 

Zoos and sanctuaries collect data on the locomotion, cognition and social behaviour of their chimps or orangutans with user-friendly protocols that we have developed. They upload the data to the EDT, which automatically compares it to profiles we have generated for wild individuals. The EDT makes recommendations for how to modify the enclosures to elicit missing or under-represented wild-type behaviours. A further dataset is collected after the modifications are made, and the EDT quantifies whether the changes to the enclosure have been successful. 

a screenshot of one of the pages of the EDT

A screenshot of the EDT

Who did we work with to create it?

Close partnerships with zoos and sanctuaries have been central to the success of the EDT. We developed the zoo chimp EDT in partnership with Twycross Zoo and The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), strongly supported by Chester Zoo, Paignton Zoo and Wheedon Architects, who sat on our Advisory Board.

Blair Drummond ZooChester Zoo and Dudley Zoo are currently piloting the EDT to ensure it is applicable to a wide range of zoo environments.

We are currently working closely with the Bornean Orangutan Survival Foundation to develop the sanctuary orangutan EDT at the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo, with fantastic guidance from the Orangutan Veterinary Advisory Group. Ape Action Africa will be our partners after Christmas to help us develop an EDT for chimpanzees at the Mefou Primate Sanctuary in Cameroon.

NERC, The ARCUS Foundation, the PSGB and the University of Birmingham have kindly provided financial support for this project.

Reports, media coverage and Promotional material

The video below explains the collaboration with the University of Birmingham and Twycross Zoo

Monkey Business with Twycross Zoo

People involved and further information

Dr Susannah Thorpe (Principal Investigator) - email: s.k.thorpe@bham.ac.uk

Dr Jackie Chappell (Principal Investigator) - email: j.m.chappell@bham.ac.uk

Dr Julia Myatt (Co-Investigator) - email: j.p.myatt@bham.ac.uk

Rachel Pietragallo-Brown (PhD Student)

David Pettifer (PhD Student)

Jamie Dolling (PhD Student)