30 April 2012

Enriching the lives of our primates

Volunteer Tine explains the importance of the enrichment programme to the primates – and the people – at our centre in Ciapus.
A schedule is prepared to ensure varied enrichment
To ensure high animal welfare standards at our centre we implemented an enrichment calendar in 2011 which makes sure that enrichment items vary and are given on a daily basis.

Enrichment is every addition to the environment of an animal in captivity that offers it the opportunity to behave naturally and therefore improve its welfare. We use enrichment mainly to stimulate natural behaviour, decrease abnormal behaviour, reduce boredom and to encourage activity. However, in order to conduct group-forming processes it can also be beneficial to manipulate social behaviour. One example is to provide enrichment items to keep dominant animals busy so others have time to relax and groom. If you are planning to introduce two animals to each other it can also be useful to see how the individuals react to new stimuli as a way to find out more about the character and behaviour of the animals.

The animals love a challenge
Another really important part of our work is the education of our animal keepers. We trained our local staff to take down behaviour using an ethogram (chart with behaviours represented by a code). This is usually done by university students and trained primatologists. They also learned how to use the collected data to create tables, graphics and presentations. By doing this, we can have a more objective method on collecting data of our animals at the centre. This is important to record an increase or decrease in abnormal behaviour, to observe if the provided enrichment has the desired effect and to measure the progress of an animal in the resocialisation and rehabilitation process.

Worms are hidden inside balls
Observations are particularly important before and after introductions. Like humans, apes and monkeys have different personalities and not everybody likes each other, so the recorded data show us if we have made a good choice for each individual. The more we understand about our animals individually, the more we can do to help provide them with a better life, particularly during captivity.

Seeds are stuck into melons
Whilst most of our local staff was sceptical about the reasons for enrichment and observations in the beginning, it is very nice to see that there has been a positive change in their attitude over time. As most of them didn’t get a chance to finish school, it makes them very happy to be able to learn how to use programmes like Microsoft Excel, Word and Powerpoint. At IAR, we believe that educating the local people is just as important as saving the animals!

A group of animal keepers is currently busy developing an enrichment catalogue showing how to create the different items we use. As soon as it is ready, it will be shared with other organisations and sanctuaries to encourage an active exchange of experiences.

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