What is enrichment?
Animals in nature have to work for a living—to find food, to make nests, and to find shelter. But play is another natural activity, whether you’re a river otter, lion or flamingo. Enrichment is the process of creating a challenging environment to address an animal's social, psychological and physical needs. Enrichment aims to enhance animal activity, provide mental stimulation and even improve the success of captive breeding of endangered species. Enrichment also engages zoo visitors by showing animals' repertoires of natural behaviors, such as playing, exploring and foraging.
How do we enrich our animals?
We choose items and activities that are safe and encourage natural behaviors. For example, orangutans in the wild make nests each time they stop to take a nap or go to sleep at night. We give our orangutans cut branches of hackberry, mulberry, banana leaves, willow, hay, or bamboo to make nests with. We can also give them "toys" like huge balls that are indestructible (especially made for zoo animals), rubber tubs, cardboard boxes, phone books, crates, and colorful fabric. Climbing structures and vertical and horizontal space encourage exercise and exploration.
Hiding food can make life more challenging; so for jaguars, we hide spices or other scents and food in logs that stimulate the cats into searching their exhibit.
Even turtles and snakes benefit from enrichment; it keeps them active and interested in the world around them.
Naturalistic exhibits stimulate our animals in ways that elicit natural behavior and prevent inactivity. Physical and mental development is an important aspect for healthy and happy animals.
Most people are not aware that the majority of zoo animals today are born in zoos where they serve as conservation ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild. Keeping our animals active and healthy gives you the chance to see them in a natural and beautiful habitat that encourages appreciation for the natural world.
Painting as enrichment
While painting for artistic satisfaction is a purely human endeavor, we train species of animals to paint as an outlet for mental and physical stimulation. This activity allows them to exhibit natural behaviors (.e.g., moving fingers and toes, trunks, up-close viewing, etc.) and in the case of several individual animals, provides a special time of interaction with their caretakers. And as an extra benefit, their efforts can be quite beautiful for humans to see!
Enrichment events at the zoo
Throughout the year, the zoo hosts a variety of enrichment events that provide zoo visitors a chance to see the animals in active exhibition of behaviors.
Check out the Events calendar to discover the next enrichment event!