Environmental Enrichment for Captive Primates: Recent Article on the Importance of Gum for Zoo Monkeys

By: Kristin Abt

A recent article in the journal, Zoo Biology, discusses the current lack of gum enrichment for certain primate species in a captive setting that is in contrast to their wild behavior. Huber and Lewis (2011) surveyed zoos at an international scale to assess the occurrence and methods of “gum-based enrichment.”

Patas Monkey at Woodland Park Zoo (Photo: Kristin Abt)
Golden Lion Tamarin at National Zoo (Photo: Kristin Abt)

They identify numerous primates that feed on gums in varying amounts in the wild, including galagos and lorises, marmosets and tamarins, and members of Cercopithecinae.  Because enrichment aims to promote species-typical behaviors in a non-natural environment, the items that are offered should be primarily selected based on whether or not they contribute to this aim.

This study obtained responses from 46 zoos, 27 of which feed gum to at least some of their primates. The greatest disparity between wild gum-feeding and captive gum-provisioning was for cercopithecines. They identify patas monkeys as obligate gumnivores; therefore, they specifically highlight the need for the development of enrichment programs utilizing gum for this species. Also, they highlight the need to provide enrichment devices that simulate how primates feed on gum in the wild as opposed to free-feeding in dishes.

Patas Monkey Exhibit (Photo: Kristin Abt)

Huber and Lewis (2011) take a focused approach to assessing an area of enrichment within zoos that can have a marked management impact. This study shows the value of applied research to enhance the ability of zoos and other facilities to care for their collections in a manner more representative of the wild experience.


Huber, H. F. & Lewis, K. P. (2011). “An assessment of gum-based environmental enrichment for captive gumnivorous primates.” Zoo Biology 30: 71-78.

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