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Home No. 27: Is it a compliance problem to separate a misbehaving primate from its housing group?

Oct 18

No. 27: Is it a compliance problem to separate a misbehaving primate from its housing group?

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Is it a compliance problem to separate a misbehaving primate from its housing group?

Reader Question:We recently added a non-human primate that, in colloquial language, "isn’t getting along with the other kids." We’ve decided to separate him while we investigate whether he has a behavioral problem we can correct through training, and then plan to ease him back into our social housing. Are “time-outs” acceptable as an exception to the social housing requirement? Are there time/frequency limits?

Expert comments: Yes, separation or "time-outs" are allowed when there's scientific justification or a veterinary medical justification.

For example, there might be scientific justification if a PI concluded that social housing could skew data from an experiment. In such cases, the IACUC must approve the exception and review it at regular intervals that are set during protocol review. Any single housing of nonhuman primates for scientific study must be reported to the USDA.

There could be veterinary medical justification for separation if the animal is injuring other animals or is being injured by them. If you take the primate out of your exercise plan, though, you’ll have to come up with an alternative to ensure it gets regular exercise.

You should expect the need to separate some animals occasionally, whether they’re in social or pair housing, especially if they’ve been housed singly in the past. You can’t insert an animal into a group and not expect some problems. In social housing, dominance must be established. In the wild, these animals can get away from each other. But if you confine 10 monkeys in a 12-by-12 enclosure, they can’t get away.

Behavioral issues and conflicts may ensue.

When returning a separated animal to social housing, make the transition incrementally. Try using side-by-side cages where the animals can at first see each other. Then use barriers so they can only touch fingers but not bite. Then open the enclosures enough to see if they get along well enough not to bite. If some biting occurs, take the aggressor back out, then try again later until the biting subsides or is minimal and not injurious.

The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) also requires that the species under its jurisdiction be kept in compatible groups. But it, too, permits exceptions to social housing for such reasons as:

  • overly aggressive and vicious behavior
  • incompatibility with other animals
  • contagious disease, and
  • debilitation because of disease or aging.

The attending veterinarian must approve all exceptions for these reasons and review them every 30 days unless the condition is declared permanent.

Expert comments by Dr. Bill Parlett Jr., a former laboratory veterinarian and current independent laboratory animal medicine consultant in New Hampshire.

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Comments (1)
assistant prof
written by Dr mls at midwest u, October 21, 2010
i'll second the motion on returning them to the group gradually. it's the only way that works in my experience. we use barriers that allow monkeys to see each other, then gradually allow more and more access. some aggressive behavior occurs initially when the problem animal is returned, but it's usually less serious and less frequent and we end up with a happy family. our system hasn't failed to work.

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