Primate and Wild Life Sensory Enrichment

A very important part of our work at the Healing Animals Organisation (HAO) is captive wildlife sensory and environmental enrichment and we volunteer our services at wild life rescue centres and Zoos in the UK and overseas in countries such as Borneo and Ecuador. Enrichment can take many forms and at HAO we have been pioneering and adapting primate and wild animal sensory enrichments. We offer many different species of tree browse, herbage and plant based compounds: replicating as many textures, tastes and aromas which animals might encounter in the wild. We are creative and innovative with our environmental and food enrichments: offering healthy food enrichments to keep the immune system strong and enclosure enrichments which ensure that captive animals remain both physically fit and mentally healthy. We try and replicate many wild food compounds and how animals would forage for them in the wild. We work with orangutans and macaques in Borneo and in Ecuador with troops such as capuchin, squirrel, tamarin, spider and woolly.

At HAO, in Sussex we forage throughout the seasons in the South Downs National Park: harvesting tree browse such as buds, flowers, catkins, leaves, rhizomes, stalks, berries and nuts. HAO members are then taught how to make up enrichments and we then spend the next day at a wonderful primate rescue centre we volunteer at called Monkey Haven in the UK. This actually should be called monkey heaven! Incredible primate troops and loved and well looked after by dedicated personnel who are as passionate as HAO are about sensory enrichments. HAO are very proud to be working with Monkey Haven, and for the last couple of years we have been visiting every two months with our sensory enrichment programme and working with twelve primate species. If you are a HAO graduate or student member and would like to learn more, please email for details. 

Environmental enrichment is defined as the process of providing captive animals with stimulating environments where they are provided with items and surroundings that encourage naturalistic behaviours. Enrichment also allows captive animals to have choices in and control over their environment, and provides them with an interesting space that inspires positive engagement.

Enrichment can achieve these outcomes by providing the animal with an environment that allows them to express natural behaviours and spend their time in as natural a way as possible, normal behaviours such as foraging, eating, sleeping, playing, travelling, communicating and interacting with fellow troop members through calls or scent marking and so on.

In most cases captivity places unnatural constraints on the animal and its ability to use its full cognitive capacity and display natural behaviour: however providing an enriching environment often prevents these behaviours from appearing and can significantly reduce the incidence of these behaviours in individuals who have developed stereotypies. Enrichment improves the physical and mental health of captive animals and as such is just as critical in maintaining good holistic health and welfare, as is good nutrition and vet care. 

Healing Animals Organisation Graduate Members Testimonials

The online course was very informative with a good amount of videos showing us how to offer the hydrosols and the importance of safety, I liked Anthea’s video talking about the body language. Watching the video started to introduce us to individual primates such as Bog. Great power-point presentation by Liz, foraging for browse was enjoyable, then putting enrichment together such as the rosehip parcels. It was interactive, therapeutic and novel. Also learning to identify trees and spending time in nature. At Monkey Haven – so lovely to meet the primates especially Bog. Seeing how they recognise Liz + Anthea, how eager they were for the enrichment and how they responded to them. Especially exciting with the roasted chestnuts as it was the first time they had them. Foraging them from the field to roasting them then on the day seeing all primates so mad for them was really satisfying – just can’t wait to go back. Charlotte

This was such a fabulous experience, from watching the pre-course videos, to foraging for leaves, berries and sweet chestnuts. To meeting the individual troops in person, I felt I was already met Bog and Xabu by the time we got there. This CPD provide invaluable experience in understanding sensory enrichment – watching the different troops, the different personalities and their individual requirements was fascinating. And knowing that we had been hands on in making rosehip parcels, lavender pillows and roasting chestnuts made the experience really personal – Not to be missed. Erica

The online videos gave a really good insight to the primates and what to look out for in body language, licking + smelling. The fact sheet full of information so you have an idea of what to expect, information easy to understand not to heavy. Collecting all the tree browse was interesting and fun and putting it altogether, making fabulous enrichments and learning along the way. Handing all out to the primates was rewarding, watching each troop acting differently and I so enjoyed their different personalities, they specifically loved the enrichments we had foraged for them. This two days has been a beautiful journey from start to finish. Saffron

Online presentation – introduction to the primates demonstrates the pleasure that the primates feel when offered hydrosols, infused oils, infused honeys and gathered tree browse and other plant materials. These videos are a joy to watch, offer insights and safe ways of offering these enrichments and how these additional nutrients are self-selected and enjoyed. 2 day course – Simply joy. I love the way in which Elizabeth builds on the videos and notes, to provide a presentation about Monkey Haven, the primates which we will meet and details about the importance of enrichment of various types:- hydrosols, foods, toys with treats – for pleasure, for  exercising the minds, for nourishment, well structured. One learns about the importance of enrichments for animals in captivity. I enjoyed the foraging experience, roasting the sweet chestnuts, picking rosehips and rosebuds, willows, apple leaves, meadow grasses and more. The afternoon preparing food enrichments, toys, infused honeys and filled pine cones to take was a lot of fun – so we engaged our brains and creativity as well. The actual day at Monkey Haven has been the most fantastic experience. It was fascinating to see how different troops behave, in relation to each other, to us, and to the enrichments and how their behaviours changed following the enrichment adventure. I have loved it all and highly recommend this learning experience and heart connection with our relations. Thank you from my heart. Minnie     

The online learning platform is great and all the videos were really informative. It was brilliant to be able to watch these as many times as I wanted in advance to get best prepared with all the information.

On Day 1 I really enjoyed the foraging and creating all the treats for the primates to try. It is so satisfying to prepare things yourself for the animals. Great fun as well as a learning experience.

Day 2 was full on and tiring but also fabulous. It was brilliant to see how excited all the primates got when they saw the cart of enrichment approaching and to witness their reaction to the scents and tastes offered. I enjoyed filling in the forms and taking part in recording their responses. Izzy 

Thank you so very much for giving me this opportunity, I had a most fascinating time.

I found the pre course work very interesting and could see just how much work had gone in to the species information sheets and all the videos and I love the idea that I can keep going back to look at them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first day of the course, amazing work selecting the leaves, berries and fruit and made me more aware of trees and plants around me.

The very best bit was learning how to make the ginger honey etc, the pine cones with porridge and the sweetcorn parcels – that will be something that I will always hold in my memory.

I was really impressed by how engaging and welcoming the staff at Monkey Haven were, wonderful and informative how at each troop we learnt about each of the personalities and to be able to witness the behaviours and reactions of each of the enrichment’s was epic.

We was given the opportunity to see Elizabeth at work, within a safe distance we could clearly see each species reaction to the enrichment that they self-selected, that was amazing and personally I could have watched them for hours !!! 

My favourite was the Capuchins, I fell in love with Peppino and his embrace of the food oils and other enrichments, then when he had selected what he needed, he was just so content and curled up to have a nap just before we left the enclosure. 

I cannot wait to join you for another trip because I feel the marmosets and squirrel monkeys will be most fascinating too, I have been completely blow away by this whole experience – having developed a love and deep interest for Primates since I was 5 years old, just being there and connecting with them at Money Haven was a total privilege. Thank you so very much Louise 

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the 2 day primate sensory enrichment. Teaching in a small group is very beneficial to students but I am aware it was for the primates benefit rather than ours! Having watched the videos online and observing you offering was the best thing and we had yours and Anthea’s input. Day 1 was very interesting. Your knowledge of seasonal herbage is very impressive and I find your enthusiasm very catching. I have never infused anything in honey so to be able to inhale the aroma and see the effect the ginger has on the consistency of the honey was fascinating. I loved the aroma of the elderflower honey and will have to wait until next year’s flowers to make my own! Making the corn wrapper parcels was such fun and raised our excitement for the following day. Day 2 was a long day but so enjoyable. Anthea was so knowledgeable about the primates. It is brilliant that she has such a good relationship with the keepers and staff.

I found the whole enrichment with the primates so rewarding and just loved every minute of it. Observing them was fascinating and it really did become a day of the rose! I felt honoured to be there and witness these lovely animals helping themselves to what they needed. with many of the primates as so many selected rose in varying forms. This is the wonder of self-selection. I was observing so much that I would forget to fill in the ethograph or in my excitement I would fill in the form for another primate in the troop that Liz had moved onto so I am sorry if I messed up the forms slightly with my crossings out. I just loved observing the reactions to all that was offered. The hydrosols are one of my favourites as they are such an opening to a session. They are a gentle introduction to what we have to offer them to help them. They can be an indication of where to go next. Observing them waiting(but already inhaling the aroma from a distance) to go to a cloth after the troop leader has discarded it and then do instinctively what they need to do is just wonderful. This may be just inhale, put on their head, carry around or wipe on an area of their body. Observing Praiya for example was fascinating as she clearly is nervous of people and of the other two in her troop but by the end of the session she did not move away when they came over and joined her, something she would normally do.

Watching them with the corn wrapper parcels was also wonderful. Some could not get the berries out quick enough! The fact that some ate the parsley or the grass and others had no interest was also an indication that they were self-selectingThe input from the keepers is so very important as some primates are fruit eaters and some are not so we needed to check with Anthea who also needed to check sometimes if there were particular fruits we should not offer a certain primate. This highlighted how important it is to do your research first.

It was such a wonderful 2 days and I am so glad I was able to join in. Thank you Liz Carolyn