Primate Behavior

Andrew Duong, Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo

My recent internship at Snake Farm (Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo) lasted from January to October of 2013. The experiences that were gained from interning at this facility are memories that I will cherish for a life time.  Originally opening in 1967, Snake Farm was a roadside attraction where you could buy snakes of any variety and shape. Since that time it has grown into an established zoological facility. Being a member of the ZAA allows the facility to host more exotic animals such as chimpanzees and big cats. Though the facility does not have these animals yet, they are now permitted to host them.

Snake Farm’s intentions are to disprove some of the misconceptions of the animals and educate people on the true nature of their behaviors. They work with the local animal control agency to train officers to correctly and properly handle snakes.  The basic duties of an intern ranged from cleaning exhibits to assisting with animal encounters.

During the internship, interns were allowed to work with certain animals under the supervision of a senior staff member. Time was set aside to work with the animals and/or the area of interest that the intern wanted to work with. Since my focus was primates, I was able to create personal bonds with the individual primates over the course of the internship. The most important aspect of interning at Snake Farm was dealing with the animals. When first being introduced to the animals, a senior staff would always be present until they were confident in the intern’s ability with that specimen.  Interns had to be signed off to work animals on their own. Primates and carnivores were off limits for open contact:  the big cats, wolves, primates, and most bigger reptiles. After the getting signed off by senior staff, interns were then able to clean exhibits on their own.

The basic duty of all interns was cleaning the exhibits, meaning removing of animal feces and/or waste. There were different sections that were cleaned out at different times, such as cattle pen, bird line, and the spraying. The more dangerous animal exhibits were left to the senior staff to clean. Diets were made the afternoon before and stored in a walk in freezer. You would gather all diets for all the animal on the “yard,” meaning everything outside, and place them into a pull cart.  After gathering all the food together you would then go out and feed all animals that you were signed off to work with. After taking out diets, you would then prepare diets for the next day. Along with doing the cleaning and feeding, interns would assist with animal encounters and occasionally work the reptile house.

The area that I focused on was primate enrichment. Enrichment is the adding of outside stimuli to an animal’s exhibit in order to benefit the animal in some fashion; for example adding apples around the enclosure is considered foraging enrichment. I worked closely with the primates. I gave the primates foraging enrichment and sometimes extra items to play with. The extra items were to spark a curiosity in the animal. It helped them with something to do during the day. The object of this position was to create a fun atmosphere for the animals that they could enjoy living in.

One area of interest to me was the capuchins ability to recognize fairness. In class we were taught that capuchins displayed actions of discontent when they were not given the fair reward for the same task (Brosan, 2003). If capuchin A receives a biscuit for giving the researcher a token then capuchin B does the same thing and receives a grape, then capuchin A would expect a grape too. But when capuchin A was given another biscuit he threw it back. The action of the capuchin throwing back the biscuit, showed his discontent with just getting the biscuit and wanting of the grape. Given that both the specimens in the experiment were accustomed to testing, I wanted to see if the primates at Snake Farm would display the same reactions. Instead of using biscuits I used cheerios and instead of grapes I used banana chips as the more desirable choice.

Working with animals is a real honor. You are not only working for yourself, but also helping to improve the life of another creature. Even though primates are considered animals and are put aside from us, working with them really brings it all home as too how closely humans are related.  The experience working with these animals, especially the primates, had a huge impact on my understanding of them. It is one thing to learn the theatrical about how to maintain these animals, but being there to interact with them hands on is another case on its own. Being able to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it, was an experience in itself, worth more than any grade.

About the author

The Internship Coordinator

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