Last night, Dr. Steve Ross from Lincoln Park Zoo spoke at nearby Central Washington University. He was invited by the Primate Awareness Network, which is a CWU student organization affiliated with the Primate Behavior and Ecology (PBE) program.
This is a really unique program, so I’m going to take a moment to give it some advertising. It’s the only program that I’m aware of in the country that offers an undergraduate degree in Primate Behavior. A master’s degree is also offered, and now there’s yet a third option for those who are seeking formal education in primate care – a certificate program that provides students with all skills and experiences listed by the International Primatological Society for Animal Technician, and some skills and experiences listed for Senior Animal Technician.
All of the staff who work at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest have been trained at some level at CWU. J.B. and I met there when we were enrolled in the graduate level program many, many years ago when there were still chimpanzees on campus (the last of the group of five chimpanzees who were part of the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute at CWU, Tatu and Loulis, now live with other chimpanzees at the Fauna Foundation, Canada’s only chimpanzee sanctuary).
Our sanctuary now works closely with the PBE program, offering intern credit for students who volunteer at the sanctuary. This gives students an opportunity to gain hands-on experience caring for primates while learning about their behavior. J.B. is an adjunct professor within the anthropology department and teaches a course on primate care.
Dr. Ross’s talk last night was about applied animal welfare, in other words, using behavioral research and data collection to gain information about primates that can be directly used to inform captive management decisions to improve individual welfare.
Dr. Ross stressed the importance of recognizing individual differences and letting the individuals tell you what they need and want based on their behavior.
And that brings me to my very informal observation of one of the individuals at CSNW today: Missy
As Jamie and Burrito were leading me on a walk around the 2-acre hill enclosure (me on the outside of the electric fence, of course), and Negra was taking a nap in the very warm greenhouse, Missy was out and about on her own mission to find and eat wild plants. She traversed across the hill, stopping occasionally to sample a bit of greenery.
It might be said that Missy has a bit more “wild and free” in her than some of the other chimpanzees. She is comfortable exploring on her own within the landscape of her little piece of nature, while some of the other chimpanzees seem to prefer to the company of others, or, like Negra, choose to venture out only when they are motivated to find a very particular plant during a very particular season.
Choice. This, above all else, is what increases primate welfare the most. When you think about it, much of what we share on the blog are the choices that the chimpanzees are freely making on a daily basis.