Can training zoo-housed primates compromise their conservation? A case study using Abyssinian colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza)

Vicky A. Melfi, Sian Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


In this study we tested the hypothesis that the process of training a nonhuman primate (NHP) affects it's general behavior patterns, outside of training. A group of Abyssinian colobus monkeys ((Colobus guereza) under bar = 8), housed at Paignton Zoo, UK, were observed for four 12-day periods. Behaviors were noted prior to training, using positive reinforcement to achieve oral examinations, and each month for three months after training had started. These data were used to construct daily activity budgets and investigate social behaviors (both colobus-colobus and colobus-human). A comparison of these data (using doubly repeated measures MANOVAs) showed activity budget ((F) under bar ((3,3)) = 9.8, lambda = 0.4, ((3,2)) = 16.6, lambda = 0. 3, (p) under bar <0.001) differed siganificantly across the four observation periods. Resting behavior was negatively correlated with feeding behavior (Pearson: (n) under bar = 56, (r) under bar = -0.25, (p) under bar <0.05); this relationship was considered to be independent of the onset of training. The significant decline in colobus-initiated interactions with the public appeared to be a direct result of the training. The results in this study showed that the implementation of training reduced colobus-human interactions. Two reasons are suggested in this paper to account for these unexpected results; either or both of these explanations may be true. The increased level of keeper-colobus interactions necessary for training may have acted to socialize the colobus to humans, so that they habituated to the general presence of humans. Equally, the training sessions may have provided the colobus with predictable interactions with humans that provided rewards, outside of which colobus-initiated interactions were not worthwhile. Training in this situation was found to be beneficial for the colobus and did not adversely affect the behavior of the colobus outside of the training sessions. It is concluded that caution should be taken when instigating training as part of captive primate management, due to species differences and the paucity of studies that have quantified the impact of training on zoo primate biology. What is greatly needed is more studies which are able to empirically compare the biology (behavior and physiology) of zoo housed primates before and after training has been implemented.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-317
Number of pages14
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal welfare
  • Behavior
  • Colobus
  • Conservation
  • Human-animal interactions
  • Training


Dive into the research topics of 'Can training zoo-housed primates compromise their conservation? A case study using Abyssinian colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this