Animal Behaviour & Learning

In Animal Behaviour & Learning students take part in a real behaviour study, where students collect and analyse behavioural data on our chimpanzees. Students discover how complex chimpanzees are as a species from their social structure to how they communicate. Students uncover how data is transformed into practical applications and used in the zoo.

Chimpanzee at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Age group:  KS4

Duration:  45 minutes

Capacity:  35

Learning Space:  Chimpanzee Enclosure


National Curriculum / Specification Links:

Edexcel GCSE Biology

B3: Using Biology

  •  2.6 Describe the different behaviours exhibited by animals including:

                       (a) Innate behaviour.
                       (b) Imprinting.
                       (c) Habituation.
                       (d) Classical Conditioning.
                       (e) Operant conditioning.

  • 2.7 Explain how humans can make use of conditioning when training captive animals for specific purposes.
  • 2.9 Describe how some animal behaviour requires communication.
  • 2.10 Explain how animals use a variety of types of signals to communicate, including a) sound signals, b) chemical signals, c) visual signals.
  • 2.12  Demonstrate an understanding of the work of ethologists, including: (d) Goodall, social behaviour in chimpanzees.

OCR Twenty First Century Science

3.5.3 Module B6: Brain and Mind.

  • B6.4.2 Recall that mammals have a complex brain of billions of neurons that allows learning by experience, including social behaviour.

WJEC GCSE Psychology

Topic 3: Developmental Psychology

  • Learning - Social learning theory and conditioning including classical and operant.
  • Animal behaviour - Advantages and disadvantages why psychologists study animal behaviour.

AQA GSCE Psychology

Unit 2 Understanding other people.

  • Learning - Principles of classical conditioning; Principles of operant classical conditioning.


Intended learning outcomes:

Students will be able to:

  • Collect behavioural data.
  • Give examples of different species of animals displaying high intelligence.
  • Demonstrate the different behaviours that can be assessed.
  • Define the term operant conditioning.
  • Discuss how operant conditioning is used to benefit the welfare of the chimpanzees at the zoo.
  • Demonstrate how data collected is used to inform changes in the zoo.


For this session


Before your visit:

  • Debate how students would measure an animal’s intelligence and give a few examples. Relate this to human intelligence.
  • Investigate some animal behaviour including some examples of the different studies carried out about chimpanzee language and learning.
  • Download our pre-visit sheet: PDF icon Pre-visit sheet - Animal Behaviour and Learning (KS4) (365.96 KB)


While at the Zoo:

  • Go to the Chimpanzee Talk at the zoo to learn about chimpanzees and their complex social structure.
  • At the silvery marmoset enclosure note all behaviours, compare these to the observations at   the chimpanzees.
  • As students to list the different complications which a behaviour study might encounter when studying different animals – eg. Ring tailed lemurs, penguins and elephants

While at the zoo visit the following primates, note down all behaviours and compare these to the behaviours you saw at the chimpanzees.



Saki monkey

Discovery Centre

Silvery marmoset

Base Camp

Ring-tailed lemur

Base Camp - In with the lemurs

Squirrel monkey

Base Camp



Post-visit resources:

  • How do you think animal training is used within the zoo? Have a debate about uses of animal training within animal collections, and how it affects the animals, zoo staff and the visiting public.
  • Plan a behaviour study of a primate – logistics, training, ethograms, budgets – investigate the planning involved in collecting data in the field and in a zoo.
  • Read the book, 'The Great Ape Project: Equality beyond Humanity' - Peter Singer (Editor), Paola Cavalieri (Editor)
    • Think about the chimpanzees that you have observed at the zoo. Have a class debate about the topic in the above book. The author proposes that chimpanzees and the other great apes are such intelligent thinking beings that they should be given the same civil rights and status as humans.

Session Resources

Prepare for your Animal Behaviour and Learning session with our information pack.

PDF icon Pre-visit sheet - Animal Behaviour and Learning (KS4) (365.96 KB)