Researchers tested the reactions of white-faced sakis when responding to the audio and visual stimuli from a touch screen device.

University of Glasgow scientists have used a ‘monkey media player’ to provide primates with enrichment activities to help improve their quality of life.

A group of primates were provided with the player which allows them to choose between video and sound files.

The player is the latest development in ongoing zoo enrichment research from animal-computer interaction specialists at the University of Glasgow in the UK and Aalto University in Finland.

The research was led by Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas of the Glasgow Uni, along with colleague Vilma Kankaanpää of Aalto University.

Dr Hirskyj-Douglas set out to explore how a group of three white-faced saki monkeys at Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki would respond to being able to trigger audio or visual stimuli on demand, like a primate-focused Spotify or Netflix. The system is the first of its kind to offer monkeys a choice of stimuli.

Researchers built a computer interface contained in a small wood-and-plastic tunnel which they placed in the monkeys’ enclosure. Infrared sensors created three equally sized interactive zones inside the tunnel.

When the monkeys moved through an infrared beam, it would trigger either a video or a sound on a screen in front of them which played for as long as they chose to stay.

The research suggested that the animals may prefer to spend more of their time listening than watching.

Dr Hirskyj-Douglas said: “We’ve been working with Korkeasaari Zoo for several years now to learn more about how white-faced sakis might benefit from computer systems designed specifically for them. Previously, we have explored how they interacted with video content and audio content, but this is the first time we’ve given the option to choose between the two.

“Our findings raise a number of questions which are worthy of further study to help us build effective interactive enrichment systems.

“Further study could help us determine whether the short interactions were simply part of their typical behaviour, or reflective of their level of interest in the system.”

She added: “Animal-computer interaction is still an emerging field of research. The data we collected in this study will be part of further developments as we learn more about their habits and preferences.

“The ultimate goal for us is to bridge the gap between human understanding of how animals’ access and experience computer systems to create meaningful and relevant experiences for monkeys.”

Enrichment activities for zoo animals are important for maintaining their physical and mental health and improving their life quality, researchers said.

Some zoos have already been using computer-based, interactive enrichment systems with primates like gorillas, chimps, and orangutans.

Animals can interact with touchscreen systems designed to entertain and engage as well as stimulate cognition in similar ways to activities carried out in the wild.

Kirsi Pynnönen-Oudman, research coordinator at the Helsinki/Korkeasaari Zoo, added: “Very little research has been done on the Pitheciidae-family monkeys and their enrichment at the zoos. This study on the white-faced saki monkeys gives us valuable data how to use different enrichment items for these New World monkeys.

“They live in the lower canopy of the rainforest of Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela. In general, saki monkeys (Pithecia pithecia) are not very intensively studied, not in the wild, nor in the captivity.

“This kind of new information will help the conservation efforts of this species both in in the wild and in captivity. Sakis have a breeding program, called the EAZA Ex situ programmes, running in European zoos.”