Children took turns solving puzzles designed for primates to learn if they were, in fact, smarter than a monkey. The exploration station at the Wisconsin Science Festival featured a shape and color choice game on iPad and a puzzle feeder that dispensed candy. The kids experienced what experimental primates go through to demonstrate their intelligence and earn rewards, like peanuts.
“[Monkeys] need to work for their food in the wild, so we want them to work for their food here. It’s healthy for them,” explained Jordana Lenon, the public information officer for the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC).
The WNPRC was one of many displays at the September 27 science festival, hosted by the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. The primate research center is known for a series of significant discoveries regarding primates, including successful isolation and culture of the primate embryonic stem cells and exploration of the benefits of caloric restriction on monkeys’ health and life span. The efforts of animal care in the center support these breakthroughs in biomedical research.
Monkeys are smart and social. To conduct better experiments, it’s necessary to “keep them stimulated and happy,” said Lenon.
Providing food puzzles is not the only form of environmental enrichment that caretakers use to enhance the monkeys’ well-being. They give the monkeys toys — pumpkins and logs — to keep them mentally active.
Staff in the center also study how monkeys interact with each other and house them socially. Researchers will observe monkeys from their birth and figure out which get along best and which animals aren’t compatible. They are eventually transferred from their original family unit to a smaller cage with a deliberately matched roommate.
“We want to take care of them because they are helping us,” said Lenon.
See the video below for a look at primate games at the festival and primates in the research lab.