Music to Their Ears

November 6, 2016

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BUFFALO, NY - Not even the sounds of Frédèric Chopin can comfort gorillas like the melodic hum of the rain forest, according to research by Susan W. Margulis, PhD and Lindsey A. Robbins ’12.

Over a period of 15 weeks, the pair from the Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation (ABEC) Program, examined the effects of music on Western lowland gorillas living at The Buffalo Zoo.  They played a mix of musical compositions – from classical to rock to nature soundtracks – then watched for changes in behaviors that are tell-tale signs of stress, such as hair plucking or regurgitating and re-ingesting food. 

When natural rainforest sounds were played, stress behaviors decreased in all the gorillas.  These same behaviors either did not change or in the case of one gorilla, increased when classical or rock music was played. 

“This suggests that auditory enrichment, which is not commonly used in zoos, can be easily utilized by keepers to help decrease stress behaviors among gorillas,” says Margulis, chair of the ABEC Department. 

In a simultaneous study, Margulis and Robbins found that birds, which share the Zoo’s gorilla habitat, fly more and are more vocal when sounds from the rain forest played.