Does forage enrichment promote increased activity in captive capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella)?

Author: Dutton, Paul E.

Publisher: Lincoln University, Lincoln, Christchurch

Type: Thesis

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Lincoln University


In their native habitat of Central and South America, capuchin monkeys (Cebus) spend 45% to 55% of their day foraging and a further 20% travelling. Once these monkeys are introduced into captive environments their diets are selective, seasonal and presented to them by their keepers. The captive environment often leads to various behavioural abnormalities and compensatory behaviours or stereotypies. To address this issue, environmental enrichment can be employed to reduce, cure or prevent such an occurrence. Enrichment can reduce stress, while increasing animal well-being and health in captivity. Despite previous work a better understanding of enrichment, for most neo-tropical primate species, is necessary, in order to improve their captive lifestyles. Feeding of captive primates is more complex than providing a balanced nutritional diet as it must also meet their ethological needs. The manipulation of the presentation of the diet has been shown to significantly decrease the incidence of resting, while significantly increasing the incidence of playing, grooming, foraging and manual manipulation of dietary items. Eleven capuchin monkeys were presented with four different feeding treatments (i.e. cut food presented in bowls, cut food presented around the enclosure, uncut food presented around the enclosure and novel feeding devices presented around the enclosure) from December 2007 until May 2008. At the start of every month one of three feeding treatments was introduced with the cut food in bowls feeding treatment interleaved between the treatments. The different feeding treatments required the monkeys to search for their food, break-up their food into manageable sizes, and obtain food in touch-, tool- and manipulative-dependent methods in order to allow the monkeys an opportunity to display increased activity more in line with their wild conspecifics. The capuchins displayed a period of intense foraging directly following feeding. This period significantly increased (from 44 to 121 min.), along with foraging events and the proportion of time spent foraging, which was more in line with their wild conspecifics. In addition, the frequency of occurrence and the proportion of time spent on locomotion and resting was shown to decrease. Also, abnormal behaviours ceased to occur during the study. Environmental enrichment is a useful tool for providing stimulation, redistributing activity levels more in line with wild conspecifics and to combat abnormal and compensatory behaviours.

Subjects: enrichment, undesirable behaviours, capuchin, Cebus apella

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