At the heart of the Primate Rescue Center (PRC), the well-being of our primate residents takes center stage. One of the many ways we ensure their welfare is through our evolving operant conditioning program, meticulously spearheaded by our Carestaff Supervisor, Elizabeth Gatlin.

Carestaff Supervisor Elizabeth Gatlin uses hand signals while training with Martina chimpanzee.

You might wonder, what’s operant conditioning? Imagine teaching someone a new skill, not by forcing them, but by encouraging them, celebrating their achievements, and helping them feel confident. It’s a bit like that! At its core, operant conditioning is a way of teaching behaviors using signals and rewards. And the best part? We only use positive reinforcements. Think of it as giving a gold star or a pat on the back every time someone does something right.

Our main aim is to build trust with the primates, so they can help us help them. Some of the critical behaviors we hone in on include getting the primates to show us specific body parts, like their teeth, ears, or any wounds they might have. Imagine how much easier it becomes for caregivers when a chimpanzee voluntarily shows them a wound or their teeth for a quick check-up!

Shifting around their living spaces is anouther essential behavior we train. By teaching them to move from one spot to another, our caregivers can safely go into the primates’ enclosures, either to clean up or introduce some fun new toys and treats.

Perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of this training is when we need to give them medical treatment or medications. With this program, rather than causing potential stress or needing sedation, the primates willingly cooperate, making the entire process smoother for them and safer for our caregivers.

Every caregiver at the PRC actively engages in this training. It’s not just a routine; it’s a testament to the bond of trust and mutual respect between the caregivers and the primates. Gatlin’s stellar contributions to this program have genuinely enhanced the daily experiences of both the primates and our team. It emphasizes that the heart of the PRC’s mission is about understanding, compassion, and ensuring the best possible quality of life for our primate family.

Caregiver Caitlyn Hume uses a target stick while training with Sawyer rhesus macaque. When Sawyer moves over to the target area, he receives a treat.

With this program, the PRC once again reiterates its commitment to the holistic well-being of our primate residents. Through uderstanding and positive reinforcement, we pave the way for a brighter, happier, and healthier life for each of them