Watching Mars, River, and Izzle adjust to their new sanctuary life has been incredibly rewarding to say the least. It seems like each day they do something new that makes me so excited and that melts my heart. They are showing us that they trust us more, they’re learning the routine, and they seem content with their new life. In a series of upcoming posts, I will spotlight each monkey and share some of his updates and personality since arrival with us. But first, an overview!
Upon arrival, the boys were hesitant – and who can blame them? Regardless of where they had come from, these monkeys had just made a trek from out-of-state to get to us and were now in new surroundings with a new routine, new people, and new enrichment. Actually, the monkeys have been less aggressive and have warmed up to us faster than I thought they would based on my previous experiences with lab monkeys.
Each day, the boys look forward to extra fun activities that we prepare for them. Often, this involves a fun way for them to forage for food where we “hide” it in different materials or places. Other enrichment includes a home-cooked produce dinner, videos, music, different scents, and new toys. After all, we don’t want bored monkeys and we know that a bored monkey will also lead to a cheeky monkey — as River will remind us when he’s ready for more puzzles/games or playthings
When the monkeys first arrived, we kept their diet similar to what they had been fed in the lab – mostly monkey chow along with some fresh fruits and vegetables. We didn’t want to upset their tummies with too much change! As they’ve been with us, we have progressively given them a significantly greater proportion of fresh produce and less monkey chow – a dietary change the monkeys definitely approve of…unless eggplant is on the menu. They definitely don’t share my passion for eggplant! On the other hand, true to the stereotype, all three monkeys go bananas for bananas, and they seem quite fond of grapes.
It has also been fun and adorable to watch their reaction to foods we assume they’ve never seen before. They may be a little hesitant at first, looking at it from different angles, and sniffing it, slowly taking the first bite…but they almost always seem to like the new food, (you know, except for eggplant!).
Positive Reinforcement Training
We have begun using clicker training and positive reinforcement training (PRT) with the monkeys. You may have seen this type of training with dogs – essentially, we use a clicker and food to reward a “target” behavior that we are looking for during a training session. While the target behavior starts out as a relatively simple behavior (ie. take food gently from our hand) through a series of progressive steps, we will be able to train the monkeys to do things such as sit voluntarily for veterinary procedures, sit or “station” at an area of a cage while a cage-mate is being attended to. We can also reduce aggression by rewarding them when they are not aggressive. Meanwhile, these interactions encourage bonding between caregivers and monkeys. Plus, the monkeys look forward to the social interaction and fun aspect of the PRT “game.” Mars and River seem particularly fond of the game and sometimes get antsy waiting for their turn. Did I mention that River gets cheeky when he’s ready for more puzzles? If not, I’m sure Mars would tell you about it!
It has been such a privilege to be able to welcome these guys into retirement and watch them adjust and grow. I hope that I bring them as much happiness as they bring me!
Primate Behavior Specialist