Welfare of primates: the need for a suitable environment

Both indoor and outdoor enclosures should be provided and should be of a suitable size, and include sufficient 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. Furthermore, it should 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
  • an appropriate amount of space
  • an appropriate enclosure with sufficient three-dimensional content, including climbing structures to facilitate species-specific behaviour
  • the correct temperature, humidity, ventilation, noise levels and lighting
  • appropriate 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 ensure:

  • a good hygiene regime to avoid disease transmission
  • a safe environment for the animals
  • a good regime of environmental enrichment
  • a wide range of appropriate 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 appropriate “flight” or escape distances
  • consideration of the special needs of individual animals appropriate to their age and condition, including ill, pregnant and new-born animals. 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 in close proximity.

Enclosure location and provision of living space for primates

Both indoor and outdoor enclosures should be provided and should be of a suitable size, and should also include sufficient vertical space appropriate to 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 sufficient 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 for primates

All primates that are kept by private keepers are arboreal, and should have an appropriate 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 care should be taken with regard to toxicity. 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 fully utilise 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.

The importance of enrichment of the primates' environment

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 ensure 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.

Appropriate feeding and sleeping sites for primates

Feeding sites should be provided in locations that are appropriate 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. Similarly, it is important to locate water sources in places that are accessible, and less likely to be contaminated.

Containers should be easy to keep clean. Sleeping sites appropriate 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. Sleeping sites should be sufficient in number for all animals, and generally provided at a high level in the enclosure, above the eye level of the keeper. Most primates never sleep on the ground.

Environmental control – temperature, lighting, humidity and ventilation for primates

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 ensure that the indoor enclosure is heated with appropriate 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 appropriate day length. Many primates need UV light to be provided to ensure 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 sufficient 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 promptly.

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 for primates

Enclosures should be constructed to minimise the risk of escape. Entry by unauthorised persons 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 should be similarly 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 facilitate foraging and other behaviour. Consequently, 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 substrate of indoor enclosures should be cleaned and replaced on an appropriate 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 ensure 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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