Happy orang-utans live longer lives

Alexander Weiss, Mark J. Adams, James E. King


Nonhuman primate ageing resembles its human counterpart. Moreover, ratings of subjective well-being traits in chimpanzees, orang-utans and rhesus macaques are similar to those of humans: they are intercorrelated, heritable, and phenotypically and genetically related to personality. We examined whether, as in humans, orang-utan subjective well-being was related to longer life. The sample included 184 zoo-housed orang-utans followed up for approximately 7 years. Age, sex, species and number of transfers were available for all subjects and 172 subjects were rated on at least one item of a subjective well-being scale. Of the 31 orang-utans that died, 25 died a mean of 3.4 years after being rated. Even in a model that included, and therefore, statistically adjusted for, sex, age, species and transfers, orang-utans rated as being “happier” lived longer. The risk differential between orang-utans that were one standard deviation above and one standard deviation below baseline in subjective well-being was comparable with approximately 11 years in age. This finding suggests that impressions of the subjective well-being of captive great apes are valid indicators of their welfare and longevity.

  • Received May 26, 2011.
  • Accepted June 2, 2011.
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