Music for Monkeys: Building Methods to Design with White-Faced Sakis for Animal-Driven Audio Enrichment Devices

Animals (Basel). 2020 Sep 30;10(10):1768. doi: 10.3390/ani10101768.


Computer systems for primates to listen to audio have been researched for a long time. However, there is a lack of investigations into what kind of sounds primates would prefer to listen to, how to quantify their preference, and how audio systems and methods can be designed in an animal-focused manner. One pressing question is, if given the choice to control an audio system, would or could primates use such a system. In this study, we design an audio enrichment prototype and method for white-faced sakis that allows them to listen to different sounds in their regular zoo habitat while automatically logging their interactions. Focusing on animal-centred design, this prototype was built from low fidelity testing of different forms within the sakis' enclosure and gathering requirements from those who care for and view the animal. This process of designing in a participatory manner with the sakis resulted in an interactive system that was shown to be viable, non-invasive, highly interactive, and easy to use in a zoo habitat. Recordings of the sakis' interactions demonstrated that the sakis triggered traffic audio more than silence, rain sounds, zen, and electronic music. The data and method also highlight the benefit of a longitudinal study within the animals' own environment to mitigate against the novelty effect and the day-to-day varying rhythm of the animals and the zoo environment. This study builds on animal-centred methods and design paradigms to allow the monitoring of the animals' behaviours in zoo environments, demonstrating that useful data can be yielded from primate-controlled devices. For the Animal-Computer Interaction community, this is the first audio enrichment system used in zoo contexts within the animals own environment over a long period of time that gives the primate control over their interactions and records this automatically.

Keywords: animal technology; animal–computer interaction; audio enrichment; white-faced saki.