Diagnosis and Treatment of Psychopathological Conditions in Captive Non-Human Primates: A Call for an Interdisciplinary Approach
Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife, Winterthurerstrasse, Zürich, Switzerland
Because of the similarities in physiological and emotional processes in non-human primates (NHPs) and humans, the diagnosis and treatment of psychopathological conditions in NHPs are often thwarted by fear of anthropomorphism, which is possibly one of the reasons for the hesitation of veterinarians to draw from the extensive experience of human psychiatry. This review aims to raise awareness among the veterinary community of the wealth of literature on NHP psychopathology in human medicine and calls for the necessity of an interdisciplinary approach to create mental health assessments and treatment methods in NHP medicine.2 By means of a case report in a gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) with automutilation, insights and methods from human psychiatry are elucidated. For example, criteria for cross-cultural approaches in human medicine may serve to define “abnormal” behavior in NHPs.2 The differentiation between the animal’s susceptibility, based on life history and intrinsic factors, and reinforcing factors is a crucial prerequisite for effective treatment approaches and reasonably set treatment goals.2 Human behavioral diagnosis is based on functional analyses, and treatment methods include defined behavioral therapy protocols, not only aimed at reducing abnormal behavior but also simultaneously shaping more desirable behaviors as alternative coping mechanisms. The overall effectiveness is greater than 80% and provides promising models to approach similar conditions in NHPs. Experiences with single treatment approaches (behavioral therapy, environmental enrichment, pharmacological treatment) in NHPs haven proven variably successful and often not sustainable, but the potential of individually tailored combination therapies based on experiences in human medicine is yet to be tapped.1,2
The author would like to thank Prof. Martin Brüne for the help and guidance with the gorilla cases, collaboration with the referenced publication, and continuous interdisciplinary consultation. Special thanks go out to Zoo Director Arne Lawrenz, Curator Severin Dressen, and the primate keeping staff of Zoo Wuppertal, Germany, for their dedicated care and special attention to the mentioned cases.
1. Bloomsmith MA, Marr MJ, Maple TL. Addressing nonhuman primate behavioral problems through the application of operant conditioning: is the human treatment approach a useful model? Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2007;102(3–4):205–222.
2. Kummrow MS, Bruene M. Review: psychopathologies in captive non-human primates, and approaches to diagnosis and treatment. J Zoo Wildl Med. 2018;49:259–271.