Alopecia scoring: The quantitative assessment of hair-loss in captive macaques.
Many captive animals show forms of pelage loss that are absent in wild or free-living conspecifics, which result from grooming or plucking behaviours directed at themselves or at other individuals. For instance, dorsal hair loss in primates such as rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) in research facilities, results from excessive hair-pulling or over-grooming by cage-mates. This behaviour appears to be associated with stress, and is controllable to some extent with environmental enrichment. Quantifying alopecia in primates (as in many species) is therefore potentially useful for welfare assessment. A simple system for scoring alopecia was developed and its reliability was tested. Study 1 showed high interobserver reliability between two independent scorers in assessing the state of monkeys’ coats from photographs. Study 2 showed that there were no significant differences between the scores derived from photographs and from direct observations. Thus, where hair loss due to hair pulling exists in captive primates, this scoring system provides an easy, rapid, and validated quantitative method, for use in assessing the success of attempts to reduce it via improved husbandry. In the future, such scoring systems might also prove useful for quantifying barbering in laboratory rodents.