July 23, 2018, BY Matt Hughes

Each week Bucknell Dining Services offers up fresh, nutritious meals to thousands of Bucknell students, faculty and staff — as well as a few dozen baboons, capuchins and macaques.

In an effort to bolster sustainability at Bucknell, the University's dining vendor has since last fall donated excess food to Bucknell's Animal Behavior Program, which uses it to supplement the diets of the roughly 50 primates housed on campus.

Caretakers scatter cut food on the ground, allowing the primates like these baboons to forage naturally.

The donated items are not leftovers or spoiled food but rather fruit and vegetable cuttings that have never left the kitchen and would otherwise be thrown away — onion and carrot tops, celery hearts and broccoli stems, for instance.

"You can only make so much cream of broccoli soup from broccoli stems," said Carlos Soza, resident district manager for Bucknell Dining, who explained that he got the idea for the program after hearing about another food service company using its scraps to feed turtles.

The fresh produce — about 20 pounds of it a week on average — supplements a diet of dry food that Professor Peter Judge '77, psychology and animal behavior, dubs "monkey chow."

"All of our monkeys are fed above and beyond what's required by regulations, so they have a diverse diet," said Judge, who directs the Animal Behavior Program. "It's enriching for them to get a wide variety of foods."

"Plus it's boring to eat the same chow every day," added Amber Hackenberg, a caretaker at the Animal Behavior Laboratory.

While the caretakers still buy some produce at local grocers, the food provided by Bucknell Dining has slashed their supplemental food budget in half, from nearly $200 to less than $100 a week on average.

Caretakers Gretchen Long and Kelsey Lingenfelter prepare fresh food to supplement the animals' diet.

Primate caretakers scatter the food on the ground, a method of feeding that replicates the way the animals forage in the wild, and the edibles also offer opportunities for other behaviors. A capuchin named Stanley, for instance, loves rubbing his body with the most pungent fare — onions and orange peels are his favorites. Judge explains it's an adaptation from the wild that helps cure sores and keep insects away, although Stanley has a tendency to overdo it.

"He gets crazy. His hair gets all wet," said caretaker Gretchen Long.

Bucknell is among only a handful of colleges offering a degree in animal behavior for undergraduates, and is well known for the variety of primate species it keeps. There are four in all: lion-tailed macaques, hamadryas baboons, brown capuchins and squirrel monkeys, in addition to non-primates such as rats, salamanders, bees and chickens.

A baboon noshes on fresh celery.

As many as 20 undergraduates a semester are able to interact with the monkeys in behavioral research experiences that include teaching capuchins to use touch screens and observing how baboons move forward after conflicts. Some studies have even involved food preference.

"Junk food — anything that's the worst thing a human could be eating is what they prefer," Judge explained. "They eat very healthy food, but their preferences still start at the top with bananas and marshmallows."

If Bucknell can continue to provide these sorts of research experiences while also increasing its sustainability, Judge said he's all for it.

"I'm glad that Bucknell Dining is thinking that way," he said. "It shows they have the right mindset, and we're glad that we can help contribute."