Students explored their biological roots as they observed reflections of human emotions and personalities in the faces and behavior of Zoo Boise primates and monkeys.
The primates and monkeys intrigued the students with parenting skills and behavior changes when presented with enrichment tools the class provided as part of a service-learning project.
“For me the primates seemed more curious about the people than the people about the primates,” said Linda Hammond, junior anthropology and environmental studies major. “I mean, they’d be like ‘Ooh look a monkey’ and then they move on to the next one while all the primates were just kind of ‘what do you got there? What are you doing?’ Li Bao (a gibbon) especially. Today she came out of the tunnel because we were standing there waiting for her. She came out, stuck up her face and started posing. She was very curious and I think a lot of people here, they just kind of walk by (and) don’t really pay attention.”
The class created enrichment tools (food vessels) for the primates and monkeys to engage with when feeding time came around. The vessels were placed outside the captivity spaces while the primates and monkeys explored new ways of getting their food.
Some just reached in and grabbed out small amounts of food, like the capuchins; others—like the mangabeys—tried to detach the enrichment tools from the enclosure. Students also observed similarities in human behavior in how the primates and monkeys engaged with their babies.
“You have that childhood, and that motherhood, it’s kind of cute, and they even have that grandmother hypothesis which I didn’t know about,” said Corrine Walker, freshman political science major. “I really like that…it kind of goes with a lot like history and philosophy because you’re learning about what makes you human and those animal instincts that we all have; they said the lemurs were lazy and they’ll eat a ton and they have to be really careful about their diet and we’re the same way, like in survival it makes sense to put on more weight and when food is available and then just store it by being lazy.”
As a result of this exercise, Elizabeth Kringen, anthropology post-baccalaureate, and Chandra Reyna, senior psychology major, felt differently toward zoos and their keeping animals in captivity.
Kringen said she now sees the educational benefit of zoos, and both Kringen and Reyna said by providing enrichment tools, zoo keepers are bridging the gap between how monkeys would behave in the wild and how they engage with their current conditions.
“I think when we first started this I was…I don’t want to say against…but I really wanted to see the interaction between how they are in the wild and how they are here. I think that by giving them the enrichments it helps them engage more, so I’ve kind of changed my view from before,” Reyna said. “I was like ‘I don’t want to go to the zoo. I don’t even want to go there. I’m not even trying to be a part of that’. I still don’t like zoos but I can see they’re trying to do their best and even though the animals are captive they really are trying to do their best to make their lives full circle.”