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Why Environmental Enrichment is important for lab animals

In addition to the legal requirement for psychological enrichment of primates, it is generally accepted that environmental enrichment is beneficial for all research animals. Both the new Guide and the 3rd edition of the Agricultural Guide place more emphasis on environmental enrichment for all species as providing “sensory and motor stimulation… to enhance well being”.

The ability to form social groups, exhibit species specific behaviors and occupy time in pleasurable pursuits reduces stress and therefore stereotypical and self-injurious behaviors. In the wild, feeding, breeding and hunting activities occupy the animal’s time; in the lab, all of these things are provided. Lab animals lack the opportunities to channel energy into activities that challenge and interest it for any length of time. This can lead to a number of negative behaviors including aggression, self-biting, anorexia, and failure to thrive. The Guide also cites studies that indicate the possibility of abnormal brain development. Any of these stress reactions can compromise animal research results.

Zoos have been the leaders in environmental enrichment. Organizations such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have long been proponents of natural environments, varied enrichment devices, and social groupings based on behavioral study. According to the AZA, the goal of enrichment is to increase behavioral choice and control of the environment based on their behavioral biology. Providing enrichment allows animals to retreat from threat or danger (shelters, visual barriers), keep warm (nesting materials), challenge intellect (manipulation, puzzle toys) and fill time.

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