Captive-primate games and well-being
Captive-primate games and well-being
Montserrat Colell Mimó
University of Barcelona

This research project will centre on improving the wellbeing of captive primates and on behavioural rehabilitation through play therapy. This therapy, proposed as an innovation in working with and handling large captive simians, consists of promoting the subjects’ leisure conducts through guided and systematic interventions, so that it will be possible to assess the positive effects of these actions, both at qualitative and quantitative levels. To do so, both the individual and social behaviours of the subjects receiving therapy will be considered, as well as the behaviours of other subjects who are part of their group.


1) Evaluate the possible benefits of play therapy to rehabilitate the individuals who are poorly adjusted and with undesirable behaviours, fostering their sociability and improving the social dynamic of the group. Although we will initially work with gorillas and chimpanzees, the protocol can also be applied to other species.

2) Create and present new cognitive enrichment exercises for the subjects in a play setting, following systematic guidelines, with a twofold aim: on the one hand, to study the subjects’ cognitive skills (ability to innovate and social learnings) and, on the other, to evaluate the effects (positive and negative) of each behavioural enrichment exercise for the individuals. At the beginning we will work with orang-utans, gorillas, capuchins, and Barbary macaques.

3) Assess the degree to which spontaneous play (individual and/or social) can be considered an indicator of mental health and wellbeing in those groups that have young and/or child specimens.

4) Publicise the research done on informative posters created for this purpose and conduct an opinion study to find out and assess the impact that our studies have on the visiting public.

Positive results in applying play therapy would let this therapy be added to zoo management to rehabilitate subjects with behavioural flaws and/or improve the overall wellbeing of captive primates. At an academic level, significant results could be the immediate object of attention, because this therapy is extremely new and innovative, and its application has not been studied systematically.

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