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How does environmental enrichment effect a Sulawesi crested black macaque?

ImageThe most beautiful, charismatic and interesting animals on our planet? I certainly think so! Over the last few years I have become utterly fascinated by Sulawesi crested black macaques. One of the things I love discussing the most with the public when at work is the work of Selamatkan Yaki, a charity run by Paignton Zoo out in Sulawesi, educating local children about the plight of their local wildlife. This is because unfortunately Sulawesi macaques are critically endangered in the wild and their population has dropped by 40% in the last 80 years!

During this 3rd year of university, as a science specialist, we were asked to write a scientific research report on any topic of our choice. Therefore I decided to carry out a behavioural observation of the Zoo’s Sulawesi macaques. The study aimed to look at the effect of active environmental enrichment on the behaviour on a dominant male, dominant female and a juvenile (2 year old) Sulawesi macaque. Active environmental enrichment being the objects that keepers put into the animals enclosure with the aim of stimulating the animal in the hope to reduce stereotypical behaviour, increase foraging and feeding times, allowing wild like behaviour and just giving the animal a more enjoyable and fulfilled captive life.

The different forms of enrichment included:

  1. Food enrichment
  2. Sensory enrichment
  3. Manipulative enrichment

instantaneous focal animal sampling was used. The macaques were observed for 9 weeks on a Wednesday afternoon, between the times of 1300 and 1430, with a sample interval of 5 minutes.

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It was found that overall food enrichment was the most effective in achieving the aims previously mentioned above, but it is also clear that all enrichments did have an active positive role in the macaques behaviour. These mean activity budgets also show similar results to that of a previous captive activity budget (Melfi and Feistner 2002) and their wild activity budget (O’Brien and Kinnaird 1997). It is possible to explain the behaviour seen both as a result of the enrichment; for instance the macaques responded better to responsive enrichment and enrichment that gave them control over their environment, and in terms of unavoidable variables such as the weather and a females oestrogen cycle.

The results also informed me that the enrichment given to the macaques is done in a pro-active way. Meaning that enrichment is not used as a band aid to fix problems, instead it is clearly to provide the animals with the highest standard of living, giving them an enjoyable and stimulating captive lifestyle.

Even though the time scale and the small sample size of this research deemed it statistically invalid, the mean activity budgets still showed some interesting results. It would be great to repeat this study with a much larger time frame and sample size to see how the results differed.

As stressful as a dissertation can be, I highly enjoyed my time studying the macaques. I just wish I had the resources and time scale to be able to carry out a scientifically valid study. However I now feel I have a far more in depth understanding of my most loved creatures. I hope I can continue to use this love for and knowledge about these animals for years to come, to help their plight in whatever way I can!

If you would like a copy of my report, or a more detailed discussion of the results, just ask and I can send a copy 🙂

Also for more information on the Sulawesi crested black macaques, here are a few great links!

http://selamatkanyaki.com/yaki-2/
http://www.wwct.org.uk/conservation-research/sulawesi/macaques
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/12556/0