A complex and stimulating environment can promote animal health. Primates that live in deprived conditions may have behavioral, as well as physical changes, including impaired immune responses and decreased reproductive success (1). Animals that display psychological well being have better problem solving skills and learning abilities (2).
It enhances the environment for animals and people. The brightly colored enrichments catch our attention, add interest to the environment, and remind us that we’re improving the quality of life for the animals in our care. This secondary enhancement benefits the staff as well as visitors (3).
It’s the law. “Exhibitors must have a documented, species appropriate plan which is adequate to promote psychological well-being. This is a quote from the Animal Welfare Act, which defines the legal requirements of an enrichment plan into five parts (4). The first two parts (Social grouping and Environmental Enrichment) describe the basis of a program and the last three mention other aspects of the plan (special considerations, restraint devices and exemptions) for animals that require additional enrichment. The five parts of the Animal Welfare Act regarding enrichment to promote psychological well-being are:
a. Social grouping – Social grouping is listed first since it provides the greatest enrichment for social species housed with compatible animals of the same species. Exceptions to social housing included: aggressive, old or debilitated animals and animals with contagious diseases.
b. Environmental Enrichment - The primary enclosure needs to provide species specific activities. Perches, swings, mirrors, objects to manipulate, varied food items, foraging or task-oriented feeding puzzles. Positive interaction with the caretaker or person familiar to the animal also provides enrichment.
c. Special considerations - certain animals need more enrichment. These include: infants and young juveniles, animals that have physical signs or behaviors consistent with psychological distress, those on research projects that restrict an animals activity, individually housed animals and great apes over 50 kg (110 lbs.) which need the spaces and materials to perform species typical behaviors.
d. Restraint Devices – non human primates can only be maintained in restraint devices if it’s associated with a health issue as determined by the attending veterinarian or it’s part of an approved research protocol. Restraint should be for the shortest possible time and if longer than 12 hours, requires at least one hour for unrestrained activity. Longer periods of restraint for research purposes require special consideration and approval by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
Look for part 2 tomorrow!