Behavioral researchers have criticized the recent mandate to provide for the "psycho logical well-being" of captive primates as nebulous and premature given the state of objective knowledge of well-being. Their professed ignorance is not surprising since much behavioral research on primates has involved deliberately damaging well-being.
This is ironic since most of these studies have been undertaken in an attempt to provide animal models of human problems, presumably with the long-term goal of promoting human psychological well-being.
In attempting to understand "quality of life," let's not be sidetracked into reductionistic attempts to "objectively" manipulate all possible environmental variables such as cage size and relate them to easily quantified, but often meaningless measures such as number of agonistic acts. Sterile parametric tinkering might generate convenient dissertation projects but would yield little insight into the key questions of well-being.
We already have a good sense of what constitutes quality of life for many captive primates. This understanding comes from field observations, enrichment studies in captivity, and cautious intuition. Animals require a varied environment over which they can exert some control. They need the opportunity to engage in the full range of species-specific behavior in groupings that reflect naturally occurring demographics. Finally, they need care provided by people who do not ignore personality differences among individual primates and who do not equate callousness with scientific objectivity, or compassion with weakness.
-Martin L. Stephens
Humane Society of the United States
2100 L St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037