Ground substrate affects activity budgets and hair loss in outdoor captive groups of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)

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Abstract

How the captive environment influences the behavior of animals is relevant to the well-being of captive animals. Captivity diverges from the natural environment in many ways, and one goal of enrichment practices is to encourage species-typical behavior in these unnatural environments. This study investigated the influence of grass vs. gravel substrate on activity budgets and degree of hair loss in seven groups of captive rhesus macaques housed in outdoor enclosures at the California National Primate Research Center. Groups having grass substrate spent a greater proportion of their time foraging and a smaller proportion of time grooming compared with groups having gravel substrate. Increased time spent grooming in gravel enclosures may have contributed to significantly greater hair loss in those enclosures. A causal relationship between ground substrate on foraging and grooming, and therefore hair loss, is strengthened by similar changes in activity budgets and hair loss in a single group that was moved from gravel to grass substrate halfway through the study. These results add to growing evidence that substrate type in captivity is important to consider because it affects animal well-being. In particular, these results reveal that grass substrate is more effective than gravel in stimulating foraging and reducing allo-grooming to levels that are comparable to wild populations, and enable animals to maintain healthier coats. Am. J. Primatol. 70:1160–1168, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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