Non-Human Primate Housing & Handling

Evidence-based refinements for non-human primates.

Several species of nonhuman primates are essential animal models in biomedical research. However, the proportion of non-human primates used in research is minimal, only accounting for 0.08-0.2% of all animals depending on location. When they are used, the greatest numbers are Old World monkeys especially rhesus and cynomolgus macaques, baboons and vervets. New World monkeys are also frequently used such as marmosets, squirrel monkeys, titi monkeys and capuchin monkeys.

Providing appropriate housing and husbandry procedures is an important aspect in the care of nonhuman primates.  Design and procedures will vary based on individual facility and species, but the goals will be similar.  Housing should provide animals the opportunity to exhibit species-typical behaviors; they should be dynamic, enriching, and safe.

Technicians should be able to effectively clean housing areas, access individual animals, and complete behavioral observations. Those working with non-human primates should receive proper training in the natural history of the species, how to recognize species-typical & -atypical behaviors, and appropriate methods for interacting with the animals in their care.

Key Natural Behaviors

  • Highly social & intelligent
  • Foraging
  • Allo-grooming
  • Both arboreal and terrestrial
  • Diurnal
  • Roost in groups
  • Hierarchical social groups
  • Vision is their dominant sensory modality


  • Stable social groups
    • Group housing is generally preferable such as in runs, pens, corncribs, or compounds
    • Pair cages are an alternative such as a full pair or panel pair
    • Play cages
  • Offspring should be kept in natal groups for as long as possible
  • Elevated perches
  • Room for exercise
  • Access to outdoors or natural light
  • Access to mirrors to reduce direct eye contact and increase the sense of control
  • Enrichment
    • Social: housing with conspecifics or interaction with caretaker
    • Physical: items that provide physical structure as well as those that provide exploration
    • Sensory: visual, tactile, and olfactory opportunities
    • Food: opportunities that increase the time spent searching for, processing, and eating foods (e.g., adding foraging mix to bedding)
    • Cognitive/occupational: provide physical and mental stimulation)
  • Operant conditioning
    • Positive reinforcement training
    • Habituation/desensitization to new staff, equipment, housing, handling procedures, etc.


The NC3Rs Welfare of NHP’s website provides a wealth of information for anyone working with nonhuman primates in the laboratory setting.  Some of which includes dedicated sites filled with photos and video for those working with macaques or marmosets, to guidelines on housing and husbandry procedures for NHPs including recommended weaning ages, methods for refining food and fluid restrictions, a review of primate chair restraint in the lab community.

The National Primate Research Centers’ (NPRC) Behavior Management Consortium (BMC) is comprised of behavioral scientists responsible for directing the behavioral management programs at each of the 7 NPRCs.  Their goals are to enhance animal welfare of nonhuman primates involved in research, and to establish a resource regarding behavioral management best practices and recommendations. The development of standardized behavior m management strategies is important, and their website provides links to assessment tools (I.e. ethograms) and publications.

Americans for Medical Progress (AMP) Come See Our World website offers a gallery of photos and videos available for educational purposes.

The American Society of Primatologists (ASP), has created a welfare page on their website.  Scientific research related to animal welfare focuses on defining welfare, evaluating environmental enrichment methods, facilitating social housing and on animal training techniques.

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) Database on Refinement of Housing, Husbandry, Care and Use of Animals in Research offers newly published articles, books and other publications related to improving the welfare of animals in research.  Links to full publications appear in open access journals or are provided on the site.   The database is updated every 3 months.

The Association of Primate Veterinarians (APV) is a collegial community of veterinarians advancing and promoting the science, medicine, management, and humane care of nonhuman primates. They promote excellence in nonhuman primate knowledge, care, and compassion for better health and science. Their website offers many guidance documents as well as many links to related sources of information.

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