What is enrichment and why it is important :
Animals in the wild spend a large part of their day looking for food, whether it be hunting or foraging. This natural behaviour keeps their minds active and alert.
To recreate this stimulus in captivity, animal care workers provide enrichment activities which help keep an animal’s mind and body active. Increasing the complexity and decreasing the predictability of an animal’s environment helps to promote healthy and positive behaviours such as play and appetite, and reduce negative behaviours such as pacing and apathy.
Good enrichment is challenging and time consuming. Research into an animal’s natural behaviour and environment is very important, as is safety, and proper observation and recording of an animal’s response to the enrichment.
Examples of different types of enrichment:
Environmental: Animal enclosures have been changed and/or items have been added for some complexity and variety in the environment.
Ex: Ladders for primates to climb on, moving around perches in a bird’s enclosure, hiding places for animals to have privacy and feel secure.
Sensory: Strive to stimulate all senses: sound, touch, sight, smell, taste
Ex: scratching post, cat nip/perfume on stick, music in background, fur from a prey animal
Food/feeding: Making feeding time a challenge and interesting. Hiding food encourages the animal to spend more time with their food. This provides mental stimulation and can also help with digestion.
Ex: Using puzzle feeders, hiding food, placing food up high, placing food in a box
Manipulative/toy: Items that have been provided for animals to use their hands, mouth, legs, head or horns.
Ex: Boomer balls, logs and sticks, boxes
Behavioral/social: Having members of the same or different species together for social interaction.
Ex: Lemurs need to groom and play so more is better. Capybara and Mara species interact well together. Social interaction with a keeper.
Picking items for enrichment
At the Zoo we strive to reduce, reuse, and recycle everyday items for making new and intriguing enrichment items for the animals.
Ex: Empty cereal boxes create a great toy for our feathered friends, providing manipulative stimulation through biting and ripping, as well as a great place to hide nuts for foraging.
A lot of thought, research, and planning goes into the safety and effectiveness of these enrichment items and must be approved by the Enrichment Committee, the Animal Health Technician and the Animal Care Manager before being put into use.
Challenges we face
Even with all the planning the zoo does to provide different types of enrichment, sometimes these efforts are not well received by various species or individuals. Some are easily intrigued by different materials or environmental changes while others ignore these same efforts. Every day zookeepers plan and re-adjust the different enrichment tactics according to each animal’s needs and focus on animals that require special attention.