Anthropology Professor Karin Enstam Jaffe has received a Captive Care Grant from the International Primatological Society for “an applied ethological study of the potential for former laboratory squirrel monkeys to be successfully retired to the San Francisco Zoo”. This project documents the behavior of an all-male group of squirrel monkeys acquired from a biomedical facility and currently housed at the San Francisco Zoo.
In the past, such monkeys were euthanized because zoos are reluctant to take them due to their reputation for aggression, injury, and death. In collaboration with the San Francisco Zoo squirrel monkey keeper and the Vice President of Animal Behavior, students in the Sonoma State University Primate Ethology lab have been studying the monkeys with the short-term goal of better understanding how to manage this group, and the long-term goal of educating other zoos about how to successfully house former laboratory squirrel monkeys so that ‘retirement’ at zoos becomes an alternative to euthanasia.
In the wild, common squirrel monkeys, Saimiri sciureus, are found in multi-male/multi-female groups (Boinski 1999) and aggression between males is common, often resulting in disfiguring scars (Boinski et al. 2002). In biomedical research, squirrel monkeys are listed as the second most frequently utilized research subject (Jack 2011), yet many are euthanized after their research utility ends because zoos are reluctant to house all-male groups for fear of serious injuries and death (C. MacDonald, pers. comm.).
The purpose of the project is to study the behavior of one of the largest all-male groups of squirrel monkeys housed at an AZA-accredited facility. The Sonoma State University Primate Ethology Research Lab has partnered with the SFZ to study this group and better understand the interactions between the monkeys as they transition from several smaller groups into one large group (n=18) with the hope that they can be successfully housed and their aggression (and resulting injuries) can be managed.
This research study showed changes in behavior of the group over time, focusing on aggression, dominance interactions, and affiliative behavior using scientific observations in combination with keeper records to better understand the monkeys’ behavior and reduce aggression and injury to the greatest extent possible and highlight how applied ethological research can enhance the educational experience of SSU students and the welfare of captive animals.
If successful, the results of this project may reduce the rates of euthanasia among ex-lab squirrel monkeys by showing other zoos that all-male groups can be housed successfully.