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. The BSU collaborates with husbandry, veterinary and scientific staff to implement the ONPRC 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. The vast majority of 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 as needed). 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. Environmental enrichment provides a way to functionally simulate the natural environment of our monkeys, in an effort to increase opportunities for expression of species-typical behaviors such as foraging and exploration. Monkeys are given enrichment, such as toys, swings, climbing structures and other items to increase behavioral diversity. Many of these objects are rotated on a regular basis, to keep them novel. Our monkeys also receive supplementary food items, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, trail mix, and frozen treats, as well as foraging devices, which they can manipulate to obtain food. During the summer months, monkeys have access to pools and water enrichment. We are currently evaluating various forms of cognitive enrichment, including iPad apps.
Click to see an image gallery of some of our environmental enrichment strategies.
Another focus of the BSU is training. We work with clinical, husbandry, and scientific staff 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) in which animals get rewards for performing appropriate behaviors. Such training gives NHPs control over their environment, thereby reducing stress associated with the procedures.
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 better understand psychological well-being issues. The results of these studies are presented at national and international meetings and published in scientific journals.