Suitable environment for primates

Both indoor and outdoor enclosures should be provided and should be of a suitable size, and include enough vertical space for the size and social needs of the species.

Space for primates to live

A suitable environment for any animal encompasses a wide range of needs. It should provide space in which the animals can express their physical and social behaviour.  It should also be secure and sufficiently hygienic to prevent disease transmission between animals, and between humans and animals. A poor environment is likely to lead to poor health, stress, inappropriate behaviour and failure to thrive.

What keepers should provide for primates

In planning a suitable environment, keepers should provide:

  • a suitable location
  • the right amount of space
  • a suitable enclosure with enough three-dimensional content, including climbing structures for species-specific behaviour
  • the right temperature, humidity, ventilation, noise levels and lighting
  • suitable feeding and sleeping sites
  • a means of, and location for, visual welfare assessment
  • a method of safe capture, handling and isolation of the animals
  • security to prevent animal escape and unwanted entry by unauthorised people

Enclosure design and materials used should also allow:

  • a good hygiene regime to avoid disease transmission
  • a safe environment for the animals
  • a good regime of environmental enrichment
  • a wide range of normal behaviours (including social behaviours)

An inadequate environment could lead to poor welfare, stress, inappropriate behaviour, and failure to thrive.

What a good environment should achieve for primates

What a good environment, together with good management, should achieve:

  • a well-designed living space that meets group and individual animal needs with good environmental enrichment
  • prevention of animals within groups being unduly dominated by other
  • individuals, and preventing an individual animal dominating heat, food and space
  • prevention of the risk of persistent and unresolved conflict between group members
  • provide for a primate’s normal defence reactions and “flight” or escape distances
  • consideration of the special needs of individual animals relevant to their age and condition, including ill, pregnant and new-born animals for example - suitable and separate accommodation for pregnant animals and animals with young should be available to minimise unnecessary stress

Those animals that could interact in an excessively stressful way should not be kept together.

Enclosure location and living space 

Both indoor and outdoor enclosures should be provided. These should be a suitable size with enough vertical space for the size and social needs of the species.

They should accommodate group expansion if breeding is planned. Overcrowding should be prevented. The enclosure should be capable of providing for the animals’ needs at all stages of their growth and development. Enclosures should be located away from busy or noisy areas, in order to reduce stress and interference from passers-by.

Enclosures should provide warm basking areas, preferably in natural sunshine, so that all animals have access. Natural light is particularly important for diurnal primates, and indoor and outdoor accommodation should be provided.

Three-dimensional design and climbing structures 

All primates that are kept by private keepers are arboreal, and should have a suitable climbing structure within their enclosure. In general, the more complex the climbing structure, the better it is for the animals.

The climbing structure should be robust enough to prevent the animals from breaking it and injuring themselves. Natural branches or man-made timber structures may be used. In indoor enclosures, the material should allow cleaning to be carried out to prevent the build-up of disease.

Living plants may be used to provide the climbing structure for some smaller species, particularly in outdoor enclosures, but make sure that they're not poisonous. The design should change from time to time to provide variety and new challenges.

Dimensions and spacing of structures should be suitable for the species concerned (for example branch width and distance between branches). Cage furnishings should allow animals to use as much of the enclosure as possible.

Ground cover is important in enclosure design for species that forage at ground level. Live plant cover also encourages natural food stuffs, like insects, into the enclosure, and provides animals with shelter, visual barriers and play.

Preventing boredom

Enrichment means the provision of furniture (beams, ropes, branches, and stumps), toys, puzzle feeders or novel activities to encourage inquisitiveness, problem-solving, and other behaviour such as foraging, climbing and chasing.

The aim should be to meet the animals’ biological needs, challenge the animals’ intelligence, and prevent boredom. Enrichment efforts are an essential part of primate husbandry, and not an ‘optional’ extra. Enrichment items should be varied, and changed from time to time to avoid over-familiarity and boredom.

Major changes should be introduced over time, to make sure that they are successful and to prevent anxiety and some well-used items should be retained. Health and safety of the animals should be considered when using enrichment devices.

Suitable feeding and sleeping sites

Feeding sites should be provided in locations that are suited to the species, and should take account of the needs, especially foraging behaviour, of the individual animals. In general, food should be scattered to encourage foraging behaviour, and more than one feeding site should be provided to prevent aggression at feed times, which can result in the exclusion of subordinate animals.

Feeding sites and bowls should be sited to minimise contamination with faeces and urine. Bowls should be easy to clean.  It's also important to have water sources in places that are accessible, and less likely to be contaminated.

Containers should be easy to keep clean. Sleeping sites that are relevant to the species should be provided. Some species require a nest-box and nesting material; others may require a shelf on which they can sleep as a group.

Other species may require a number of sleeping areas so that the group can separate at night. Enough sleeping sites should provided for all animals and they should be at a high level in the enclosure, above the eye level of the keeper. Most primates never sleep on the ground.

Temperature, lighting, humidity and ventilation 

The temperature, humidity, ventilation and lighting of indoor enclosures should be suitable for the comfort and well-being of the species at all times. In particular, cold, draughts and damp should be avoided. Consideration should be given to both indoor and outdoor areas and conditions overnight.

Indoor enclosures should be maintained at a temperature suitable for the species they contain. Different species may have different temperature requirements. Care must be taken to make sure that the indoor enclosure is heated with relevant thermal gradients, and that unacceptable cold spots are eliminated. Heaters should be guarded to prevent burns.

Warm basking areas should be provided.

Lighting should provide suitable day length. Many primates need UV light for proper skeletal development. Direct access to sunlight in an outdoor enclosure will provide for the UV needs of most primates (note that UV light is screened out by glass).

Heating will often reduce the humidity of the enclosure. Most primates come from humid forest environments, and low humidity may cause health problems.

Indoor ventilation should be provided, avoiding draughts. Animals with access to outdoor enclosures should be provided with enough shelter for their comfort and well-being. It is important to provide several different shelter areas (for example from strong sunlight, wind and rain), so that dominant animals cannot prevent subordinates from seeking shelter.

Welfare assessment of primates

The enclosure should be designed to allow easy visual assessment of the animals daily, so that welfare problems or behavioural issues such as aggression within a group are identified as soon as possible.

Safe handling and capture of the animals

Animals need to be caught from time to time for veterinary reasons, or for social group management.

Handling can be stressful for animals, particularly for those primates that are not routinely handled. Only experienced people should handle primates. A consistent and long-term relationship with keepers will mitigate stress caused to primates at these times.

Keepers should have the knowledge, training and competence to handle primates safely and carefully. Capture facilities should be incorporated within an enclosure, for example by providing a trap within a run, a nest-box that can be closed, which may be used as a refuge, or a small area in which an animal can easily be caught with a net.

Health, hygiene and safety 

Enclosures should be constructed to minimise the risk of escape. Entry by unauthorised people should be prevented. Double doors should be present on all enclosures to prevent escapes, and should be securely locked. All locking systems should be designed and maintained to prevent animals from unfastening the securing devices.

Windows also need to be secure. Entering an enclosure with most primates is dangerous, so enclosures should be designed compartmentally to allow for safe cleaning. Enclosure design and construction should aim to minimise disease. However, uniform hard-ground surfaces should be avoided.

Primates need a complex environment to make foraging and other behaviour possible. So, hygiene regimes for the prevention of parasites and other pathogens may depend on management practices. For example, a cleaning regime should be devised that balances the need for cleanliness with the need to allow animals to mark territory.

Cleaning primates' enclosures

Where cleaning may disrupt the scent-marking behaviour of a particular species, areas of the enclosure should be cleaned in rotation.

The surface of indoor enclosures should be cleaned and replaced on a suitable cycle. Outdoor enclosures may have a natural (soil) substrate, but that may have to be replaced periodically to prevent or control the build-up of pathogens.

Hard materials should be constructed to allow cleaning and disinfection, or removal and replacement if necessary. Cleaning agents that are safe for use in animal enclosures should be used, and keepers should make sure that they employ recommended safe application methods for the use of such products. Any open drains should be situated outside the enclosure.

Husbandry regimes should include precautions to minimise risks of disease transmission from humans to primates.

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