Chimpanzees, captive primate welfare, and my summer trip to Uganda

Hello, everybody! My name is Brittany Fallon, and I am a junior Anthropology and Linguistics major at the College of William and Mary. This summer I’ll be conducting research in the Kasokwa Forest Reserve, Uganda from May until August! My time there will be spent collecting data on chimpanzee behavioral ecology for Dr. Janette Wallis (a dear friend of my adviser, Dr. Barbara King), but I will also be working on my Honors Thesis which involves welfare of captive non-human primates.

Two chimpanzees of the population in the Kasokwa Forest.

Two chimpanzees of the population in the Kasokwa Forest.

The area where I’m going in Uganda is especially interesting because of the effects of deforestation on the chimpanzee population. See two of the chimpanzees who live there, Kangeye and Makosa, on the right! Many of the people in the surrounding villages are sugarcane farmers, and as such need space to grow their crops. This results in an increasingly present interactions between chimpanzees and humans, as the chimpanzee habitat is used more and more by the people.  Issues of this sort are becoming very prominent in conservation studies due to the level of habitat loss the world is seeing each year. My work for Dr. W this summer will involve learning about these issues, as I suspect that I will witness first-hand many of the problems that result from such habitat destruction, such as chimpanzees being caught in traps or farmer’s crops being damaged by the sugarcane-loving chimps.

My own research involves the practice of primate enrichment, a method of bettering the psychological and physical needs of nonhuman primates in captivity. The importance of enrichment for captive primates is well-documented, and benefits of enrichment include decreased aggression, increased social activity, and a general improvement in welfare. Despite the prominence of enrichment studies, in practice enrichment is often overlooked, or viewed by caretakers as being of secondary importance.

Thus, my research addresses the disregard for enrichment by conducting research in Uganda this summer to examine the best types of enrichment for nonhuman primates, as well as examining the major factors deterring institutions from enrichment practices, by surveying members of research labs, sanctuaries, and zoos. This project melds two areas of anthropological study, contextualism – or the theory of the ‘natural context’ of chimpanzees as integral to understanding behavior – and community studies, with its emphasis on service-learning theories.

Photo taken by my future co-worker, Maureen, of the morning walk to work!

Photo taken by my future co-worker, Maureen, of the morning walk to work!

Combining the results of each part of my study – determining the best enrichment for chimpanzees and employees – I will then reach out to institutions through conferences and a website detailing affordable enrichment opportunities. It is my hope to empower smaller zoos, sanctuaries, and research laboratories by proposing enrichment programs that best suit their needs. Looking forward to the next post!

-Brittany

Comments

  1. Brenda A Morris says:

    Hello, Brittany! I found out about your research from an email regarding W&M honor fellowships. Have you approached PETA for funding? As an ethical vegan for 20+ years, I embrace PETA’s committment to ALL animals. Just a thought. Good luck on your endeavors and, on the behalf of the animals, thank you!

    Brenda

  2. David Van Pelt says:

    Let us know you got there.

  3. npwamsley says:

    Brittany your project sounds absolutely fantastic, and I really hope you can help the animals! I’m sure you’re having an amazing time.

  4. Brittany Fallon says:

    Hi, Brenda! I did not approach PETA for funding, but that might be a great resource for the future steps in my project. Thanks very much for the idea!