- Amanda Rodriguez
Notes from the field: July 2019
Salama Fellow Primates!
I am reporting from the beautiful Reniala Lemur Rescue Center (LRC). Currently, investigating the effects of feeding enrichments on the behavioral rehabilitation of ex-pet Lemur catta. It has been at least four weeks since I have arrived at LRC. I can say this place has pushed me out of my New York comfort zone. Being here is making me a more independent and stronger individual. Yes, I did face a few obstacles along the way, but I was able to power through them. Although this trip is a big challenge for me, I am ready to overcome it. Everyone here has been welcoming and full of so much life. I do enjoy my alone time here because I just get to sit with my L. catta and soak in everything. I have truly fallen in love with the L. catta here. I don’t know how I will be able to leave this place and my lemur buddies once I finish my study. Luckily, I still have a few more weeks here.
Okay enough with my cheesiness over here, let’s get back to my research study. So why did I create this study? The illegal pet trade is a known threat; however, it is a threat that is not commonly spoken about. Unfortunately, there are videos online where people have promoted this idea that it is okay to own wild animals as pets, especially non-human primates. Although it is adorable to see, the reality is they are suffering. The majority of pet L. catta are often kept in inadequate conditions and face abuse by their owners. These conditions could be from restrictive cages to being tethered to ropes to being castrated by their owners. These inadequate conditions and abuse could lead to behavioral issues from pacing to over-grooming to extreme aggression. Therefore, I strongly believe implementing certain types of enrichments could improve their health and promote species-specific behaviors while decreasing abnormal/stereotypic behaviors.
The first time I heard about the illegal pet trade and the projects combating this issue in Madagascar, I was drawn to the LRC. It is one of only a few captive facilities that care for confiscated illegally kept pet L. catta. The main purpose of LRC is to be a temporary place for these ex-pets since the ultimate goal is to reintroduce them back into the wild. I want my current and future research to have a significant impact on conservation as well as bring awareness to certain issues that are not truly talked about. However, the main reason as to why I decided to conduct my research at LRC is because I would like to settle down in a career where I have the opportunity to care, rehabilitate and create enriching environments for species that are negatively impacted by human actions. Therefore, I tailored my thesis research study to hopefully do exactly that.
The structure of my study is broken down into three phases: pre-observational phase, experimental phase, and post-observational phase. The pre-observational phase involves my three groups of L. catta being presented with their morning diets in a control feeding enrichment (food bowls). The experimental phase involves each group participating in one of three feeding enrichment conditions: control feeding enrichment, ground feeding enrichment (containers with holes attached to seesaws made of wood), and suspensory feeding enrichment (containers in feeder nets with ropes attached to them). The post-observational phase will be the same setup as the pre-observational phase where they are being presented with food bowls again. I am conducting behavioral observations via a combination of live and video recordings. Overall, I hope my study can determine if feeding enrichments increase species-specific behaviors and activity levels, as well as decrease stereotypic/abnormal behaviors and boredom in the L. catta. Further, figuring out whether or not the type of feeding enrichment affects these factors and determine if the L. catta hold a preference, which will allow us to tailor future enrichments to suit their needs.