FEB 05, 2014 02:00 PM PST

Behavioral Management Strategies that Allow Nonhuman Primates to Voluntarily Participate in Their Own Care

  • Associate Professor, Veterinary Sciences,The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
      Dr. Schapiro received his Ph.D. in comparative psychology from the University of California at Davis in 1985. Dr. Schapiro has studied captive Old World monkeys at the Kenya and California Primate Research Centers and New World monkeys at the Caribbean Primate Research Center. For the last 23 years at UTMDACC, he has been performing a series of controlled experiments that examine the effects of environmental enrichment on rhesus monkeys housed singly, in pairs, and in groups. For the past 15 years, he has been involved in a variety of research and management projects in the UTMDACC chimpanzee colony as well. Dr. Schapiro's research interests include assessing the effects of the social environment on the behavior and immunological responses of primates and in applying these data to the social and immunological management of captive research colonies.


    Nonhuman primates in captivity are typically provided with a multitude of behavioral management opportunities, including naturalistic social groupings, foraging devices, complex physical environments, positive reinforcement training, and challenging cognitive tasks. We are currently providing our nonhuman primates with additional behavioral management alternatives, specifically, several options that allow them to participate in their own care. These opportunities include chances to 1) choose which of several medications they would prefer to receive, 2) control aspects of their physical environment (light levels, temperature, humidity, etc.), and 3) receive acupuncture and similar treatments for maladies related to advanced age. A number of the chimpanzees in our research colony are participating in a study that allows them to choose which of two arthritis medications they prefer. The choice procedure we employ opens a valuable channel of communication with the animals that permits them to directly ‘tell' us which medications they favor. The next phase of this program will expand the choice procedure to other types of medications required by the animals. We are also using the Kinect video game system, which lets the chimpanzees act as the ‘controller' to optimize the physical environments in which they are housed, providing them with the chance to control fans, lights, and radios. Additionally, many of our nonhuman primates voluntarily participate in blood sampling procedures (venous and capillary), and acupuncture and laser treatments. These are all examples of components of a comprehensive behavioral management program that is designed to provide nonhuman primates with multiple opportunities to control, and participate in, their own care. In our opinion, this is the direction in which all management programs for captive nonhuman primates should be headed.

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