Towards the end of my undergraduate education, I was deciding where to go for graduate school as I knew I wanted to pursue research. I initially planned to go into clinical psychology as I was interested in psychological disorders. However, upon doing more research, I found the program “Animal Behaviour and Welfare” at the University of Guelph, and I immediately knew that studying abnormal behaviours in captive animals was the path for me.
Two years later, I completed a M.Sc. thesis on abnormal behaviours in fur-farmed mink. I am currently in my third year of my Ph.D. in the same program at the University of Guelph. Under the supervision of Drs. Georgia Mason and Brenda McCowan, I am investigating whether stereotypic behaviour (SB: abnormal repetitive behaviours like pacing and head-twirling), self-injurious behaviour (SIB: harmful acts like self-biting), and depressive-like inactivity (e.g., immobile, slumped postures that may reflect depression-like states) are valid indicators of lifetime well-being in laboratory rhesus macaques at two US National Primate Research Centres, including California and Oregon. While no one has investigated whether depressive-like inactivity reflects lifetime welfare, prior work has shown that SB and SIB may be indicators of lifetime welfare, as they are elevated by nursery rearing (involving premature maternal loss), isolation, and repeated use in research. However, these studies have some limitations that I plan to overcome.
Overall, I hope to identify: 1) which of these three behavioural biomarkers best reflect rhesus macaque lifetime wellbeing; 2) any aspects of rearing, housing or temperament that can help protect or buffer individual monkeys from the harmful effects of repetitive research-use; and 3) humane endpoints (at which animals should be retired or euthanized), if results reveal non-linear ‘tipping points’ beyond which costs to animal welfare suddenly accelerate.