Stevens, T., Williams, W. R. 2020. Tarps used as visual barriers decrease aggressive conflicts in baboons. Laboratory Animal Science Professional 8(5) (September/October), 72-74.
Nonhuman primate (NHP) colonies housed in research settings are manipulated frequently due to research protocols, for breeding, and for veterinary procedures. These manipulations come with maneuvering complex group dynamics that can be challenging for baboon groups, which have a strict social hierarchy. Due to these frequent manipulations, restructuring of social status is often observed with captive non-human primate colonies, which often contributes to an increase in aggressive conflicts. Offering visual barriers such as tunnels, tubes, and barrels inside housing units is routine practice for NHP colony management which provides subordinate animals a chance to avoid or retreat from dominant/aggressive conflict within the troop. While this is the standard in our facilities, we needed additional visual barriers between each primary housing unit. We developed a simple solution to provide a quick and effective visual barrier between large corral housing, as well as a portable privacy panel for non-colony housed primates. A large polyethylene tarp was affixed to a rod placed between the aisles of two indoor corrals using hooks, similar to a shower curtain design. Fishing weights were affixed to the bottom of the tarp approximately every 12 in to ensure the tarp would hang down and remain out of reach from the animals. The tarp is easily slid across the rod or rolled up to allow for full, partial, or no visual access between troops across the aisle. After the addition of the large tarp barriers between opposing groups we had over a 60% decrease in aggressive encounters within a 6-month period. The smaller privacy panel has also proven to be beneficial in shielding other primates from witnessing sometimes stressful procedures their cohorts are receiving such as; injections, oral dosing, etc. and even has lessened the occurrence of finger and hand injuries from close contact between cage bars. After 6 mo of comparison between corrals with and without the visual barriers, the large tarps in fact proved to be beneficial in reducing the occurrences of aggressive conflicts that led to baboon injuries and stress, leading to better animal welfare and improved research outcomes.