Stereotypic and self-injurious behavior in rhesus macaques: A survey and retrospective analysis of environment and early experience



Abnormal behavior in captive rhesus monkeys can range from active whole-body and self-directed stereotypies to self-injurious behavior (SIB). Although abnormal behaviors are common in singly-housed rhesus monkeys, the type and frequency of these behaviors are highly variable across individual animals, and the factors influencing them are equally varied. The purpose of this investigation was to survey abnormal behavior in a large population of rhesus macaques, to characterize the relationship between stereotypies and self-injury, and to identify potential risk factors for these aberrant behaviors. Behavioral assessments of 362 individually housed rhesus monkeys were collected at the New England Regional Primate Research Center (NERPRC) and combined with colony records. Of the 362 animals surveyed, 321 exhibited at least one abnormal behavior (mean: 2.3, range: 1–8). The most common behavior was pacing. Sex differences were apparent, with males showing more abnormal behavior than females. SIB was also associated with stereotypies. Animals with a veterinary record of self-injury exhibited a greater number of self-directed stereotypies than those that did not self-injure. Housing and protocol conditions, such as individual housing at an early age, longer time housed individually, greater number of blood draws, and nursery rearing, were shown to be risk factors for abnormal behavior. Thus, many factors may influence the development and maintenance of abnormal behavior in captive primates. Some of these factors are intrinsic to the individual (e.g., sex effects), whereas others are related to colony management practices, rearing conditions, and research protocols. Am. J. Primatol. 60:1–15, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.