Primate Care Manual


The Ultimate Resource for
Quality Care and Understanding of Primates
in Private Captive Situations


Chapter Excerpt


“…well being connotes more than an absence of pain and distress. It implies that an individual’s psychological, security, and behavioral needs are fulfilled.”
Dresser, ‘88

Of all the recent efforts to improve the lives of captive primates, the subject of psychological wellbeing has taken the forefront. This subject has become a matter of great debate as there is no definitive answer for either primates or humans. The argument also takes on an ethical approach, for some will argue that if a monkey is not aware of what it is missing, or how it is being deprived, then it remains “blissfully ignorant.” Does it then suffer? Or does suffering come from awareness of one’s existence? One must consider that if the lack of psychological wellbeing causes a monkey to adapt in negative ways to its environment, then it indeed is suffering, whether it contemplates it or not! Since monkeys cannot be asked if they are content or depressed, it is left up to the caretaker to read their behavior and health indicators in order to determine the degree of psychological wellbeing in their animals. Just as the animals they judge are individuals who adapt in their own unique way to captivity, the caretaker himself is also an individual. Therefore, he or she will impart much of their own values into their conclusion. For example, one caregiver may feel that a monkey can be quite psychologically healthy living with a human family in which it perceives itself to be human rather than monkey. On the other hand, another person may feel that a human-imprinted monkey that is socially isolated is quite abnormal, and cannot possess true psychological wellbeing when its natural behavior has been so distorted.

The question has no black and white answer. There are two important points to consider: first, the effects of captivity on primates are very complex, and many are so subtle that it would take a great deal of behavioral study to identify all of them.

Secondly, each animal is an individual and will adapt to its captive environment in its own unique fashion. There are, however, common behavioral responses and repertoires that can be seen, even across species.

Caretakers have quite a responsibility. Not only to learn what negative, abnormal behavior is, but how it starts, what can be done to treat it, and most importantly, to prevent it. Perhaps it would be best to begin exploring what is abnormal by understanding what normal is for nonhuman primates.


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