The Behavioral Services Unit (BSU) at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) is devoted to the psychological needs of the nonhuman primates. The primary goal of our unit is to provide the monkeys with conditions that afford them opportunities to express species-typical behaviors (such as grooming and foraging) and reduce stress. We work with the husbandry, veterinary and scientific staff to implement our Behavioral Management plan, which provides for the behavioral needs of our monkeys
Monkeys are social animals, and form complex relationships in their natural habitats. Therefore, we provide our monkeys with the maximum possible amount of social opportunities. Over half the monkeys at ONPRC live in large groups, including outdoor corrals and new sheltered housing units. The remaining animals live indoors in small groups or cages. Whenever possible, we pair the caged monkeys; that is, keep two monkeys in a double cage with a removable slide (which can be replaced to separate the cage-mates). We also work with the Operations Unit to design new caging to promote social housing. Placing and maintaining monkeys in social situations is a top priority of the BSU.
Monkeys are naturally curious, and spend a great deal of time foraging and investigating novel objects in their natural habitats. We try to give our monkeys the same opportunities. We give the monkeys toys, rotated on a biweekly basis to provide novel stimuli that promote exploration. The monkeys have the opportunity to watch television and listen to the radio. They get supplementary food items, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, trail mix, frozen treats, etc. We also provide the monkeys with foraging devices, rotated regularly, which they can manipulate to obtain food. In addition, the monkeys have access to pools and water enrichment in the summer time. Click to see an image gallery of some our environmental enrichment strategies.
Another focus of the BSU is training. We work with the Animal Care and Clinical Technicians to train monkeys to voluntarily cooperate with procedures necessary for husbandry and research protocols, such as entering a transfer box or getting an injection (which can happen at their physical exam). We use positive reinforcement training (e.g., clicker training) in which animals get rewards for doing the appropriate behaviors. They do not get punished if they do not perform the appropriate behavior. Such training gives monkeys control over their environment and helps to make procedures less stressful.
Decreasing undesirable behaviors
Despite all our best efforts to supply enrichment and social opportunities to the monkeys, some monkeys still display undesirable behaviors such as over-grooming and self-biting. We diagnose and attend to monkeys with these behavioral problems, which often can be reduced through the use of therapeutic devices. For monkeys 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 spend a great deal of time on prevention (for example, social housing, environmental enrichment, training) to try and prevent future occurrences of these undesirable behaviors.
The BSU staff at ONPRC is committed to advancing our knowledge of how to increase the psychological well-being of our monkeys. We have initiated research studies to examine such psychological well-being issues as how the animals use the new sheltered housing units, how they use various enrichment devices and what the effect of temperament might be on pairing and training. The results of these studies are presented at national and international meetings and written up in scientific journals.