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Sunlight is something we all need, want and often don’t get enough of, especially in the winter. That can be the case for animals, too. Natural sunlight has lots of different components; one vital ingredient is Ultraviolet (UV), specifically Ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation. UVB affects vitamin D uptake, which plays a vital role in maintaining bone health in humans and many other animals such as monkeys.


Primates in zoos often don’t obtain enough natural sunlight to maintain optimal vitamin D levels. Although luckily not the case for our animals – that’s the joy of living on the English Riviera - inadequate vitamin D levels can lead to metabolic bone disorders such as rickets. There are different ways of treating this condition, such as adding vitamin D supplements to the diet or providing artificial UVB lighting to create “indoor sunlight”.


My project, as part of a placement year in the Field Conservation and Research Department at Paignton Zoo, is focussing on the behavioural and physiological effects of providing artificial UVB lighting for brown spider monkeys (Ateles hybridus). We have five individuals at Paignton Zoo; Paru, Lijuana, Luna, Sophie and JR.


The UVB light is located above one of the platforms in their enclosure; I am doing a behavioural study to find out how they are reacting to the UVB bulbs. I want to know if they change their enclosure use or behaviour due to the new lighting; do they avoid or go towards the platform directly below the lights and/or do they show wild-type basking behaviours when on the platform? Next, I will be putting two spotlights beside the UVB bulbs to create a “sunbeam” directly onto the platform – the aim is to encourage them to use the platform and perform basking behaviour.


Alongside this, I am looking into the physiological effects of the UVB light through faecal sampling, investigating how the presence of UVB affects internal calcium levels. This will hopefully give us a non-invasive way of looking at vitamin D levels and to assess bone health.
I hope that, at the end of my placement, my results will contribute to improving the health and welfare of primate species in zoos across the country.

Ignatius-Roy Hillcoat-Nalletamby, Placement Student

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