Environmental Enrichment for Gummivorous Primates
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Physical anthropologists that study the feeding behavior of wild primates report that many haplorhine and strepsirhine species consume the gum exuded from trees. These gum feeding primates include, but are not limited to, some of the Lemuridae, Galagidae, Callitrichinae, and Cercopithecinae. Although gum plays varying degrees of importance in their diets, at least one species from each of these families and subfamilies is a gum specialist. Despite the prevalence of gum in the wild diets of these animals, few data exist concerning gum feeding in captivity. This study evaluates whether or not the knowledge gained from wild studies is applied in captive environments.
Data were collected from 46 zoos in twelve countries via a web-based survey, with additional visits to both the Phoenix and Houston zoos for follow-up data collection. The majority of the responding zoos provide gum-based enrichment to marmosets (Callimico, Callithrix, and Cebuella- 83%), but only half provide gum to tamarins (Leontopithecus and Saguinus- 50%) and galagos (Galago and Otolemur- 50%). No zoos report feeding gum to baboons (Papio spp.), vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops), or patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas).
Since environmental enrichment that stimulates naturalistic behavior promotes the psychological wellbeing of animals, gum feeding is likely to be important to the welfare of captive gummivores. This study shows that the needs of captive cercopithecines are not being met, particularly in the case of the patas monkey, an obligate gummivore. Practical application of ecological data in captive contexts is just one way physical anthropologists can contribute to the conservation and welfare of some of our closest living relatives.