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Key considerations for non-human primate environmental enrichment

With animal welfare always a top priority at Envigo, enrichment is considered part of a continuous improvement process that takes into account latest training, approaches, and methods to ensure non-human primates (NHPs) receive the best possible care and attention.

Tina Koban, Associate Director of Behavioral Sciences, shared her thoughts about how to create a care program for non-human primates and design environmental enrichment programs tailored to an individual animal’s needs.

The foundation of a behavioral management program

Environmental enrichment is an important part of a holistic, pro-active behavioral management program.

Tina explained, “When people ask about enrichment, they don’t realize it’s part of this much bigger, comprehensive approach. Along with environmental enrichment, you must consider species-appropriate housing, socialization, training of staff, and programs to address animals' needs and decrease or avoid any unnecessary stress. Captive management is this constant moving part, this complex challenge, and it requires multidisciplinary approaches to ensure we meet each animal's physical and psychological needs.”

Tina’s team is trained to recognize behaviors that are associated with positive wellbeing, as well as behaviors that may indicate that the social pairing or housing choices need adjustment.

The role of education and training

“A big part of our approach is the education of our staff,” said Tina. “They go through extensive in-class and hands-on training so that they understand the species they are working with—and learn how to best work with them for a positive relationship. This aids in health observations, husbandry tasks, and other procedures, such as restraint or blood collection.”

Knowledge sharing plays a big part in education as skilled staff continue to refine their skills and build on their mastery to make decisions centered around the welfare of the animals.

Designing an environmental enrichment program

Tina stresses that there is no standard procedure for creating a successful enrichment program—each program must be unique to the needs of the animals, facility, housing, staff, and particular husbandry or study techniques.

“We know from experience as well as research literature that the most important thing for NHPs is social housing,” said Tina. “Beyond housing, we work closely with the veterinary and scientific staff to determine and agree upon appropriate, enrichment items that promote species-specific behavior that keep the animals stimulated and promote a balanced environment.”

Examples could include structural items like ladders or swings in outdoor housing, occupational or manipulatable items like foraging devices or problem-solving activities, positive social interactions with staff, and a variety of novel food items presented in a variety of ways.

“Regardless of the type of research our models will be supporting, it is our job to ensure we are habituating our non-human primates to a captive environment and they have a positive relationship with their care staff. This is essential for their well-being and the overall goals of the scientific industry. We are always thinking of the animals first as we are incorporating new elements into our environmental enrichment program.”

Rewarding work to support life-changing research

Tina believes that people working with NHPs share a passion for animals and their enrichment.

“Not only do we want to provide good models that support research, but we really truly care about the animals. I believe that’s why people go into this field. Our work in a laboratory environment is interesting because it’s always evolving as new data and studies emerge, we are always striving to improve the welfare of our animals. I enjoy the process of seeing our staff learn how to best work with animals, and in turn, see the positive effects they have on the animals’ lives.”

In summary, behavioral management programs require continuous improvement to ensure non-human primates (NHPs) receive the best possible care and attention. Please contact us if you are interested in developing your own behavioral management program.