Monkey Puzzles

Monkey puzzle enrichment CERCOPANSomeone once said that a person’s universe divides into halves: The bright and noisy half in front of the eyes in which are things like food and shelter and the world, and the darkness behind the eyes in which dwell such things as love, fear, interest and boredom. As an animal’s intelligence increases, so does its capacity for boredom. Boredom and unanswered frustration decrease animal welfare and can lead to depression, which increases illness and can lead to death. For highly intelligent animals such as primates, it is just as important that psychological needs are met, as it is that base body needs such as food and shelter are satisfied. Luckily, monkeys are curious creatures and find interest in many things, not least in each other. For this reason, keeping the CERCOPAN monkeys in groups enables social interaction and they themselves become “habitat enrichment” for each other. However, this only partly meets the psychological (and physiological) need for interesting things.

To further satisfy the primates need for mental stimulation, I have been very busy designing puzzles for them. Many zoos and sanctuaries have taken to providing their monkeys and apes with toughened touch-screen computers and the like. Obviously, such devices would last about 19 seconds in the high dust/humidity environment of tropical Nigeria. In their stead I have used defunct office equipment to construct the first generation of puzzle feeders to confuse and interest the monkeys here. Although they provide less variability than an IPad, they do offer the incentive of food, which always increases interest! The first feeders have been in place a few days now and the second generation began testing yesterday. I am currently collecting ideas for the third. Hopefully, if I can balance easy use by keepers and low-maintenance with a level of complexity that will interest (but not enrage) the intended monkeys, these will provide a benefit long after my time at CERCOPAN has come to an end.

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