Primates feast on Bucknell Dining’s kitchen scraps Sombrero Pics/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Primates feast on Bucknell Dining’s kitchen scraps

A cool part of a sustainability/waste diversion push on campus, research monkeys and baboons enjoy bits of fresh produce that would’ve otherwise been thrown away. Here’s how the program works. Plus, read on to find out the baboons’ favorite veggie snack.

At Bucknell University, grad and undergrad students in the fields of psychology and animal behavior have the chance to observe the social behavior and cognitive ability of four species of primates.

In the animal behavior building on campus, there are currently 50 primates, including lion-tailed macaques, hamadryas baboons, squirrel monkeys and brown-tufted capuchins (you may recognize the capuchin as Indiana Jones’ monkey sidekick/double agent in Raiders of the Lost Ark).

Examples of recent studies on the 50 primates include observing the capuchins using touch screens and recognizing pictures and also using tools and what happens with baboons’ interactions following aggressive conflicts. The primates are group-housed, living in their family groups for the most natural, enriching setting, according to a statement from the Animal Behavior Program.

Since last fall, the dining hall delivers about 80 to 100 pounds of fresh produce scraps—including tomato ends, the outer leaves of cabbage or lettuce, cores and stems of bell peppers, tough broccoli stems and onion ends to the primate house on the far end of campus. Additional scraps come from local grocery stores and the local farmers’ market.

The fresh veggie scraps are hidden around the primates’ habitat, providing the chance to forage, part of the program that encourages natural behaviors.

“The fresh produce is used for enrichment for them, not as their main diet,” explains Carlos Soza, resident district manager for Bucknell Dining with Parkhurst. “The main part of their diet is a monkey biscuit [a nutritional bar].”

The primate collaboration came about when the dining team attended a sustainability conference last year in Allentown, Pa.

“During a meal time at the conference we were sitting with another foodservice company, and they were talking about giving their salad bar leftovers to lizards and turtles on campus, and we looked at each other and said, ‘We have the baboons and monkeys that live on campus—duh! Why don’t we give some stuff to them?’” Soza says, adding that previously the primate department was spending almost $100 a week on fresh produce from grocery stores.

In the kitchen during prep time, the staff sets aside scraps. At the end of the shift, the scraps are bagged and placed in 5-gallon buckets for delivery to the primate house. The primates only can have preconsumer waste from the kitchen, since they can be exposed to human germs from say, leftovers from the salad bar.

Since Bucknell doesn’t yet have a composting system, these scraps, for the most part, would go in the trash.

“As a foodservice team, you can only make so much cream of broccoli soup with the broccoli stems,” Soza says. “But the primates really like the broccoli stems. They like how fibrous they are.”

And the one treat that is driving the baboons ape?

“The baboons love the ends of the onions for some reason,” Soza says. “They fight over them and argue and they want to rub them all over their bodies.”

Sounds like dining services has found some new fans!

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