Research Project: Mirror Self-Recognition

Although it has been decades since researchers first started investigating mirror recognition in non-human primates, the question has still not been answered sufficiently. Up to now, it could be shown in chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. However, in most of the previous studies, only roughly half of the tested animals exhibit behaviour which hints at self-recognition. Of course, one explanation could be that these individuals do not recognize their own mirror image. Another reason might be that many studies may not have been ideally designed for the respective species. Furthermore, samples sizes may have been too small and individual differences may have been neglected.


Non-human primates are just as individually unique as humans. This has been obvious for people who work with non-human primates, for a long time, but behavioural biologist and psychologists are only slowly beginning to take this fact into account. Within this project, orangutans and other primate species will be observed with respect to their individual differences. New insights into the capabilities of primates are not only interesting to scientists, but help us every day to further improve the welfare of the primates in our care and to stay on target with our conservation efforts.


In this study, led by Dr. Kathrin Kopp, different groups of non-human primates housed in European zoos will participate within the framework of the research network “GrApeNet”.

Dr. Kopp only uses well-established methods of behaviour observation and strictly non-invasive behaviour and cognition tests. At Schönbrunn Zoo, the whole group of orangutans will be provided with hand and wall mirrors. The orangutans can decide, whether they want to interact with the mirrors. The creative tasks prepared within these elaborate studies are a welcome enrichment activity for the orangutans.