As part of animal welfare, enrichment has important goals and science behind it. Watching the animals, it also looks like a really great time!
BY Karen Worley
Complexity Is Key
Figuring out a puzzle to unlock a treasure of raisins. Climbing up swinging branches to a cozy hammock made of woven firehose. Head butting a big pile of dirt until it’s been vanquished. Discovering that there’s one rock that stays nice and toasty for lounging, even on a chilly day. Just what are these animals up to? They’re taking full advantage of enrichment.
It’s a given that keepers provide zoo animals with most of their daily needs. The animals’ territory is protected from invaders and predators, they don’t have to seek out and fight for mates, and the basic resources are right there—water, food, shelter, and health care. Because they don’t spend the greatest portion of their time just trying to survive, they have more free time than their wild counterparts. With that in mind, enrichment programs are designed to provide zoo animals with engaging and meaningful activities, so they can use the characteristics and abilities of their species and control and manipulate their own environment within the zoo setting.
Food for Thought
Both Useful and Fun
The purpose of enrichment is to develop and enhance the complexity of an animal’s environment in a variety of ways that will encourage the use of natural behaviors. It’s behavior based—keepers determine the goal they want to achieve and the behavior they want to encourage, and then provide an opportunity for the experience. Giving animals physical and mental challenges, finding ways to stimulate exploration, thinking, and discovery, and providing them with opportunities to make their own choices and decisions are fundamental parts of enrichment. Because the idea is for an animal to “do what that species does” as much as possible, enrichment encompasses a wide range of items, exhibit designs, animal care techniques, and sensory stimuli.
Time to Explore
Senses and Sensibility
As part of San Diego Zoo Global’s comprehensive animal welfare program, the animal care teams are committed to providing innovative, creative, and relevant enrichment that is integrated into every aspect of caring for the animals at the Zoo and Safari Park. The goal is to promote well-being through physical activity, foraging and exploration, cognitive challenges, and social contact that is appropriate for the species.
Look for Clues
What does all of this look like in practice? You’ve probably seen it many times during your visits to the Zoo and Safari Park. You probably recognized it as enrichment when you saw the big bag stuffed with hay that the young gorillas were tossing around, or the ice block with apples and carrots frozen in it that the grizzly bears were licking and pawing.
But you may not have called it out when you saw that the hamadryas baboons had a variety of different levels of rocks to sit on in order to maintain their natural social hierarchy. Or that the sika deer herd had a choice of grazing on the hillside, wallowing in the pond, or gathering in the shade under the trees, and could choose what they wanted to do. More and more, enrichment includes aspects of animal care that seem like standard procedures. And that’s a good thing—it is all an integrated part of zoo animal care and welfare.