Sundays with my chimp friends Joey and Tubman
November 12, 2006, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Chimpanzee Welfare

November 12, 2oo6

Tubman Joey
Every sunday for the last three years I have been working with a local wildlife park to implement an enrichment program for their primates: squirrel monkeys, tufted capuchins and chimpanzees. I am very passionate about improving the living conditions of primates in captivity. Many primates all over the world are forced to live out their lives in barren, unnatural enclosures without a thought for their psychological well-being. They are cared for, fed every day and their enclosures are cleaned but this is not enough. Mental health is as important as physical health.

When I first met Joey and Tubman, who are in their late thirties, their enclosures were barren and out-dated but the keeper and staff were happy to work with me to improve the lives of the primates in their care. Our priorities were building hammocks for the chimps so that they could sleep off the ground to reduce the risk of chills and to install logs at low and higher levels to encourage climbing. I also introduced a daily enrichment program which consists of six areas:

1. Permanent structures such as platforms, climbing structures, ledges, etc.
2. Semi-permanent items that are removable such as tyres, hammocks, ropes and cargo nets.
3. Non-permanent objects are placed in the chimpanzee enclosures daily and cleaned after they leave the area (magazines, paper, cardboard boxes, clothes, shoes, toys, etc.).
4. Food Puzzles are means of food dispersal that requires tool use and critical thinking skills to obtain the food such as a tree trunk with holes filled with raisins or cereals or an artificial termite mound (under construction).
5. Food can be presented in a variety of ways to encourage foraging such as hiding it in boxes, adding straw or sawdust or hanging the fruit in bags.
6. Music: playing the radio or tapes with different sounds.

All of the objects in these six areas are cheap or free and therefore there is absolutely no excuse for all facilities holding primates not to implement them. With a little bit of effort the differences in the animals’ psychological health can be astounding.

Joey in particular has made the most progress over three years. Originally he rarely moved around the enclosure, and if he displayed he would get out of breath very easily. Also, he showed a lack of interest in most enrichment activities such as scatter feeding or introducing new objects. Today he has lost weight, he regularly utilises more of his enclosure, he brachiates, plays and participates in all enrichment activities.

Tubman has always enjoyed the enrichment activities and he especially enjoys using branches to get raisins out of holes. He enjoys human contact and laughs when groomed or tickled.

Working with Joey and Tubman has made me realise that we should never give up on older animals because they all have the potential to flourish if efforts are made to change their lives. It is such a great feeling to see depressed listless individuals become more active and enjoy life.


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