Introduction to the Social Housing of Primates

One of the most important forms of enrichment that can be provided for any captive, gregarious primate species is social housing. Primate social housing can consist of groupings of two to 100 or more members; captive housing composition should be guided by the species’ typical social structure found in the wild. Knowledge of the natural behavior of individual species is crucial in proper captive management of nonhuman primates (see Primate Info Net Factsheets for species-specific information).

The implementation of a social housing program for facilities with nonhuman primates, including laboratories, zoos, and sanctuaries, requires special attention to ensure the successful formation and maintenance of social groups. Social housing should be overseen by individuals with expertise in nonhuman primate behavior as animals housed socially require ongoing monitoring to ensure compatibility and to reduce the possibility of injury or distress. 

Scientific studies have shown that captive primates who are housed socially exhibit higher levels of species-appropriate behavior, lower levels of stress (both behavioral and physiological indices of stress) and, overall, demonstrate well-being that is superior to that of their singly-housed counterparts.

Regulations are in place to ensure that the social housing needs of captive nonhuman primates are addressed (see Regulatory Resources and Guidelines). The American Society of Primatology endorses social housing as the foundation of welfare for nonhuman primates (for the full statement, please see the ASP Social Housing Policy Statement.)

There are workshops available that include curriculum regarding social housing techniques and management practices for nonhuman primates (see Workshops). These workshops are not endorsed by the American Society of Primatologists, but they may be useful to those trying to learn more about introduction methodologies and group management.