The Behavioral Services Unit (BSU) at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) is devoted to the psychological well-being of our nonhuman primates (NHPs). The primary goal of the unit is to provide conditions that afford the NHPs opportunities to express species-typical behaviors (such as grooming and foraging) and reduce stress. BSU collaborates with husbandry, veterinary and scientific staffs to implement the Division of Comparative Medicine Behavioral Management plan, which provides for the social and behavioral needs of our monkeys.
NHPs are social animals that form complex relationships in their natural habitats. Therefore, we provide our monkeys with maximum social opportunities. Well over half the NHP population at ONPRC lives in large outdoor or indoor/outdoor groups; the remaining animals live indoors in small groups or cages. Whenever possible, we pair caged NHPs, keeping two monkeys in a large double cage with a removable slide (which can be replaced to separate the cage-mates). We also work with the Resources, Facilities and Operations Unit to design new caging to promote social housing. Placing and maintaining NHPs in social situations is a top priority of the BSU.
NHPs are naturally curious, spending a great deal of time foraging and investigating novel objects in their natural habitats. We attempt to mimic their natural environment and give our monkeys the same opportunities. We provide toys, rotated on a biweekly basis, for novel stimuli and exploration. The NHPs also have an opportunity to watch television and listen to the radio. In addition, they receive supplementary food items, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, trail mix, and frozen treats; plus, we provide foraging devices, rotated regularly, which they can manipulate to obtain food. And particularly in the summer, the monkeys have access to pools and water enrichment.
Click to see an image gallery of some our environmental enrichment strategies.
Another focus of the BSU is training. We work with clinical, husbandry, and scientific staffs to train NHPs to voluntarily cooperate with procedures necessary for husbandry and research protocols, such as entering a transfer box or receiving an injection (which can happen during a physical exam). We use positive reinforcement training (e.g., clicker training) where animals get rewards for appropriate behaviors. Such training gives NHPs control over their environment and helps to alleviate stress.
Decreasing undesirable behaviors
Despite our best efforts to supply enrichment and social opportunities to the NHPs, some monkeys still display undesirable behaviors such as over-grooming and self-biting. We diagnose and attend to NHPs with these behavioral problems, which can often be reduced through the use of therapeutic devices. For NHPs that engage in over-grooming, we hang paint rollers that have been covered with trail mix on the cages in order to redirect the behavior toward these furry objects. Because some behavioral problems are difficult to cure, we direct our attention on preventative measures, such as socialization.
The BSU staff at ONPRC is committed to advancing our knowledge of how to increase the psychological well-being of our NHPs. We conduct research studies to examine behavioral management in an attempt to understand psychological well-being issues. The results of these studies are presented at national and international meetings and published in scientific journals.