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How tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) rank monkey chow in relation to other foods

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Captive primates are usually fed on monkey chow, a high-energy food designed to provide a complete and balanced diet for primates. In addition to the nutritional value of a food, its palatability, frequency of presentation in the daily diet and sensory stimulation may also be important for determining whether it is accepted by the animals. The aim of this study was to evaluate the food preferences of 26 captive capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) using monkey chow and a variety of foods, which ranged from being very familiar to completely novel to the monkeys, and to assess whether the frequency of presentation in the daily diet and sensory stimulation affected their food preferences. Food preferences were scored in terms of the food item chosen and whether it was then eaten. In Experiment 1, subjects encountered paired combinations of seven familiar foods (present in the monkeys' diet with different frequencies), including monkey chow. In Experiments 2 and 3, monkey chow was paired with seven novel foods (not previously present in the monkeys' diet) and seven ex-novel foods (previously only encountered repeatedly during an earlier experiment) respectively. The results show that monkey chow, despite its high energy content, was not very attractive to capuchin monkeys. Other familiar foods (especially those not presented daily) were chosen and eaten more frequently than the monkey chow, and novel foods were chosen more frequently than the monkey chow. The findings of this study have implications for the feeding husbandry of captive primates. Familiar foods presented in the diet each day are less preferred; therefore good practice would be to alternate foods over time. Occasional presentation of novel food items could be a stimulating and economical method of providing sensory enrichment.
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Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; CEBUS APELLA; DIETARY HUSBANDRY; FOOD PREFERENCES; MONKEY CHOW

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-08-01

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