Skip to main content

New funding scheme: £4M available for proposals to establish infrastructure needed to accelerate use of non-animal methods. Apply now.

NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science

Housing and husbandry: Non-human primate

Information to help refine the housing and husbandry of laboratory non-human primates.


There is a great deal of published information on the housing and husbandry of non-human primates. The underlying principle is to provide safe, comfortable and hygienic accommodation and care, which allows the animals to perform a wide range of species-typical behaviour and exercise a degree of choice and control in their environment (e.g. to choose to socialise with, or avoid, group mates). The amount and quality of space provided, and the flexibility of the enclosure, are essential considerations. Other factors that should be taken into account include ease of cleaning, capture and monitoring of the animals.


A large room housing a breeding group of rhesus macaques. In the background is a floor-to-ceiling height bay window, letting lots of natural light into the room. The floor is covered in a deep layer of wood shavings, with one monkey on the floor foraging for scattered food. Wooden ladders, platforms and shelves fill the walls and room space, some of which have monkeys resting on them. Suspended from the ceiling are swings made from wood and ropes, and from plastic barrels and firehoses.

Components of a good primate housing system

The components of a good primate housing system are listed below. Most are applicable to all species, although the detail of how to interpret and apply each component may vary. Advice from a specialist in primate behaviour and welfare will help to interpret the requirements for individual species. It is also necessary to take into account the procedures that animals undergo and any requirements imposed by them (e.g. surgically-prepared animals may need an area in the home enclosure where they can recover from anaesthesia yet retain visual and olfactory contact with the rest of the social group). 

Three male cynomolgus macaques sitting in their laboratory enclosure. One animal is looking at the camera. The enclosure is made of a steel frame with Trespa panels and glass windows. A window into the adjacent enclosures shows a plastic and metal perch suspended perch from the ceiling.
  • Housing in stable, compatible groups (pairs at least).
  • Adequate socialisation and habituation to humans, and training for cooperation with husbandry and procedures, where appropriate.
  • Sufficient space to provide for exercise, a range of species-typical behaviours, structural division of the enclosure, and suitable environmental enrichment.
  • A solid floor as a resting area and to allow provision of substrate for foraging.
  • Sufficient enclosure height to allow vertical flight if alarmed; no small double-tier cages since these limit upward movement and therefore can be stressful for the animals. Evidence suggests the lower levels can be dark and the animals may receive less attention from staff.
  • Structures to enable utilisation of as much of the enclosure as possible (i.e. to increase the useable space for the animals), for example, perches, platforms, swings, ropes, ladders; sufficient for all animals to occupy without competition
  • Visual barriers to allows animals to control their social interactions
  • Nest areas for species that use them (e.g. wooden nest boxes and plastic hanging buckets for marmosets and tamarins)
  • A varied diet appropriate for the species
  • The ability to forage, including appropriate artificial feeding devices and scatter feeding
  • Appropriate wood (i.e. no chemical preservatives or long strips that can block the gut) for species that gnaw (e.g. marmosets) and for scent-marking
  • Toys, chews, tactile materials and destructible materials (e.g. cardboard boxes) to provide a degree of control over the environment.
  • Adequate light levels and appropriate spectral emission for species' needs.
  • A flexible enclosure/furniture layout to allow stress-free capture.
  • Provision to facilitate positive reinforcement training in groups (e.g. seprate areas in front of the cage where dominant and subordinate animals can be trained simultaneously).
  • A degree of novelty (e.g. minor changes in furniture, feeding practices, toys).
  • Access to outdoors wherever possible.
A family group of common marmosets housed in a laboratory room. Four marmosets are perching on wooden branches and metal frames, which fill the available room space. Other enrichment in the room includes suspended ropes and plants. There is artificial lighting in the ceiling and sawdust on the solid floor. On the left hand side is a small mesh cage, used to capture the animals, and also flexible tubing, which gives the monkeys access to an outdoor enclosure on the roof of the laboratory.

Enrichment strategies

Further examples of enrichment strategies are given on the NC3Rs Macaque Website and Common Marmoset Care website.

Swimming pools provide effective enrichment for macaques in the laboratory. These animals show high motivation to manipulate the water surface, immerse themselves, dive, swim and play (including underwater), even in the absence of submerged food rewards (e.g. raisins, nuts, banana chips). Advantages of this enrichment technique are that it is based on a natural behavioural inclination, encourages play rather than food-orientated enrichment, provides exercise, keeps both animals and their enclosure clean, and can facilitate thermoregulation in hot weather (BFC Israel Ltd.)


Stock and experimental macaques at this laboratory are group-housed and given access to the custom-made polypropylene pools about once per week to maintain some novelty. The macaques can be seen swimming, dive-bombing and wrestling. 


Outdoor runs for stock and breeding marmosets located on the roof of a laboratory. The outdoor runs are constructed of wood and mesh, and enriched with Astroturf, non-toxic shrubs and browse, and flexible perches. Marmosets can be seen investigating blossom on the shrubs, scent-marking and leaping.


Weaned long-tailed macaques at BFC Israel Ltd. in a two-tier enclosure designed to provide extensive visual barriers and thereby minimise aggression within the social group. The enclosure contains wooden fixed perches and a variety of moveable swings.



  1. ​​​​​Buchanan-Smith HM, Prescott MJ, Cross NJ (2004) What factors should determine cage size for primates in the laboratory? Animal Welfare 13: S197-201
  2. Buchanan-Smith HM, Shand C, Morris K (2005) Cage use and feeding height preferences of captive common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) in two-tier cages. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 5: 131-149
  3. Hubrecht RC, Kirkwood J, Eds. (2010) The UFAW Handbook on the Care and Management of Laboratory and Other Research Animals, 8th Edition, Wiley-Blackwell.
  4. Jennings M, Prescott MJ, Eds. (2009) Refinements in husbandry, care and common procedures for non-human primates Lab Anim43(1) 1-47
  5. Prescott MJ, Buchanan-Smith H (2004) Cage sizes for tamarins in the laboratory. Animal Welfare 13:151-158
  6. Rennie AE, Buchanan-Smith HM (2006) Refinement of the use of non-human primates in scientific research, part II: housing, husbandry and acquisition. Animal Welfare 15:  215-238
  7. Roder EL, Timmermans PJA (2002) Housing and care of monkeys and apes in laboratories: adaptations allowing essential species-specific behaviour. Laboratory Animals 36: 221-242
  8. Waitt CD, Honess PE, Bushmitz M (2008) Creating housing to meet the behavioral needs of long-tailed macaques. Laboratory Primate Newsletter 47(4): 1-5
  9. Wolfensohn S, Honess P (2005) Handbook of Primate Husbandry and Welfare, Wiley-Blackwell. 

Housing and husbandry in other species