Primate Enrichment

Cage Enrichment

In our housing section we also briefly touch upon enrichment.   I would like to use this opportunity again to point out that the size of your monkey enclosure is important.  The larger their enclosure is, the more your primate will have the opportunity to run/swing around.  The way you should enrich their enclosure mainly depends on how they move around.  A spider monkey for instance are brachiators so they like to swing with their arms and tail. To accomodate for that behavior, you probably want to run some bars alongside the roof of your cage.  Marmosets on the other hand like to spend time exploring so make sure to provide them with plenty of branches that run in different angled positions. Make sure to use your airspace as efficient as possible.  When using branches, swings, and ropes, install them at different heights, angles, and make sure to change the setup often to prevent boredom. Most primates also enjoy shelves at installed at different heights.   It’s also very important that you provide places where your monkey can hide.  Just like us, monkeys do enjoy some privacy from time to time.  Lastly, keep safety and washability in mind.  Make sure your enrichment items are easy to clean or easy to replace when needed.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Tire swing
  • Hammock: for marmosets you can simply use a hammock designed for ferrets, for larger primates you’ll have to create your own hammock.
  • Milk crates
  • Garden hose swings: many primate owners prefer to use garden hoses since they can be cleaned easily
  • PVC Tubing
  • Branches
  • Hanging Tunnels
  • Jolly Ball with Handle (for horses): in the picture on the right, rope clamps are used to secure the rope to the ball handle and to a chain quick snap.  A screw eye in the ceiling makes it very easy to remove the ball.
  • Jeans: use snap locks to attach jeans by their belt loops to your cage wire.  Sew both legs shut at different lenghts and put treats in the pockets and legs.  For smaller monkeys like marmosets and tamarins, sew a shirt on a cloth hanger for the same result.

How to install enrichment items?

An easy way to install busy boxes is by attaching them with a chain and use a double snap lock to attach it to your wire cage wall.   If you want to install them to an inside wall, simply anchor a screw eye into a wall beam and you’ll be able to attach your enrichment items with a double snap lock or a quick link.  When installing branches in their enclosure, it is recommended to use screw eyes on both sides so they can be easily be moved and replaced.

Floor Enrichment

In the wild primates spent most of their time foraging for food.  By using woodchips or straw in your primate enclosure, you’re basically creating the opportunity for natural  foraging.

Woodchips are often used for inside enclores due to the fact that it is soft to lay on, less cleaning is required, and because it reduces odor since it significantly reduces the growth of bacteria.   A 4 to 6 inch layer will remain quite oderless especially in comparising with bare surfaces.

Straw is often used for outside enclosures and although it requires turning after it rains, primates enjoy to lay, throw and roll around in it.

Both straw and woodchips provide excellent foraging opportunity .  Dried fruit cubes, cereal (sugarless), popcorn, mealworms, seeds, grains, and nuts are great foraging foods that you can easily scatter on the floor.   It will allow your primate to forage for their food.

Animal and Toys for Children

The most suitable animal toys are typically those for large dogs.   Obviously the size and type of toys depend on the specie you have.  Kong Toys and Nylabone are commonly used for primates since they’re so tough.  People often insert treats in Kong Toys (like prima treats from Bio-Serv or peanut butter).  You could also drill holes into plastic balls and insert them with sunflower seeds to increase enrichment.  Large bird toys are often used for smaller monkeys like marmosets and tamarins.

Many primate owners also give their monkey children toys.   When using children toys make sure they are very sturdy.  Keep in mind that monkeys like to chew and bang their toys around.  For smaller monkeys like marmosets, tamarins, and squirrel monkeys, you could attach a music box from fisher price to their cage wall.  The bright lights and sounds are certain to entertain your monkey.  For larger monkeys attach the music box on the outside of the cage where they monkey hands can still reach the buttons.  That will prevent them from destroying these music boxes.   Stuffed toys are rather popular amongst primates to cuddle and throw.   It is adviced to use stuffed toys made for babies since they’re safer.   Outdoor children play furniture are also enjoyed by many primates.  One brand in perticular seems to be on top of the list: Little Tikes (shown in the picture: Little Tikes Wave Climber).  Throw a blanket over the top which makes the top shelf into a entertaining hiding place.

Make sure to wash their toys frenquently with water and soap.   It’s important to rotate toys for variety and to provide them with new toys every now and then.   Make sure to check your toys often to make sure they’re still safe.  There are plenty of great toys available at garage sales and thrift shops so shop around often to keep your primates entertained.

Other Enrichment items

When trying to provide enrichment to your monkey, think outside the box.  Very often the least expensive toys are those your primate will enjoy the most.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Cardboard box: a simple cardboard can keep your monkey busy for several days.
  • Magazines: could get messy but your monkey probably won’t stop reading until the entire magazine is destroyed.
  • Plastic Storage Drawer: at the side where you open up the drawer, drill a small hole to install a double snap lock.  Attach the other side of the snap lock to your cage wire so your monkey can’t flip the container or open the the drawer (lock should block the drawer from opening).  Use a hole saw to cut multiple sized holes into the top of the container and fill drawer with food.  Once unlocked, the drawer can be easily removed for cleaning.
  • Plastic Juice Jug: fill jug with vegatables cut in long strips to make it a bit more difficult for your monkey to remove the items
  • Tooth brunch
  • Unbreakable metal mirror
  • Blankets: most primates seem to enjoy soft blankets.  They’ll use it for hiding, cuddling, or to drag it around.
  • Horse Hay Bags: simply hang them up in your cage for your monkey to sit in or climb on.
  • Coconut Shells
  • Paper Sacks
  • Mango seeds: dry the seed for 1 to 2 days before giving the seed to your monkey.  Mango seeds are nontoxic and can be eaten.
  • Corncobs: dried clean corncobs are also excellent chew toys
  • Balls
  • Dog Pool: perfect for your outdoor enclosure in those hot summer months for certain species like macaques, guenons, but also capuchins.
  • TV: keep the tv outside the monkey enclosure or build  a box around the tv as shown in the picture to the right.  In the front plexi glass is used to protect the tv.  A tv is another way to keep your primate busy and just like with humans, every primate seems to have their favorite channel.  For Benji, a capuchin monkey, spongebob seems to be the all time favorite.

Send us tips on primate enrichment so we can share them on our site!

Providing Enrichment for Baboons

March 27, 2012 6:21 am

I was reading a story the other day related to primate enrichment at the National Zoo in South Africa.  Their goal was to create an enrichment program for their baboons in an effort to increase activity and decrease aggression within the group.  The group consisted of 1 male and 3 females.  To deal with the aggression they gave contraceptives to the females which definitely helped with the aggression but they felt they could do more to enrich the lives of these baboons.   This article will show you some very inexpensive ways to enrich the lives of primates kept in captivity.

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Posted in baboon, enrichment

Build your own Trapeze Monkey Swing

March 9, 2012 1:51 am

Primate Trapeze Swing Materials

I’m always looking for new ideas related to primate enrichment and was pretty excited when I bumped into a trapeze monkey swing that David created for Sammy, his capuchin.  All materials (including the trapeze styled pvc pipe) were purchase at home depot.  The total project cost was around $9 (cost of chain not included).  Chain itself was around $12 but since he only used about 10% of the total chain link, the actual cost of the chain for this project would be around $1-$2.   Once you have all the materials it’s a 10 minute project so let’s get started!

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iOS apps for monkeys

March 8, 2012 4:50 am

IOS apps for monkeys

When Benji was only a few months old, he clearly showed some interest in my iPod Touch. I always have my iPod Touch on me, and often read my email when I’m in the monkey room with him since it is kinda sturdy. He always loves to grab this thing out of my hands and if I don’t watch out, he’ll run towards the water bowl to give it a bath. Yes it is a miracle my iPod Touch is still alive!

Just recently I decided to find out which program seems to peek his interest the most.  Anything that flashes on this device clearly seems to interest him, but there are 2 programs he actually likes to play with.

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Mango Seeds

February 5, 2012 7:34 pm

One of the favorite foods Benji, our capuchin, loves to eat are fresh mangos.  What I didn’t know until recently was that the seeds of a mango are nontoxic and can be eaten.  more...

Posted in enrichment

Latches Board

February 4, 2012 5:54 am

One of the most favorite things Benji, our capuchin, loves to do is open up locks.  My wife has been telling me for a while now that I should create a board with locks on as an enrichment device.  It is after all another great way to keep your monkey busy when you’re not around.  I was then also rather excited when I noticed that somebody posted a picture of the above latches board.  This board contains different kind of latches that open up little doors to keep your primate entertained.

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