Enrichment 101

DAWN NEPTUNE

BEHAVIORAL PROGRAMS COORDINATOR

      A barrel, a ball, a cardboard box. Walking through the Zoo, you might see a variety of seemingly “out of place” items. Whether it’s a giraffe working its amazing tongue to get a tasty treat from a puzzle feeder, monkeys using their skills on a colorful toy, or a training session with the seals… all of these techniques are part of our Behavioral Enrichment program.

At Hogle Zoo, our animals are given opportunities to learn, interact and express natural behaviors using enrichment—a term used to describe the activities used by keepers to enhance the animals’ environments.

In their natural environments, animals live in an ever-changing world. Their goal is to simply survive. But animals in a Zoo live the easy life. Without the need to find food, protect territory, or avoid predators, animals can spend their time developing a wider range of behaviors. They have time to explore many other abilities using enriching activities provided by our zoo keepers.

Our enrichment goal is to stimulate our animals’ minds and bodies using natural and artificial means. We enhance their environments with challenges, novelty and unpredictability. Providing enrichment can increase activity, reduce some of the stresses associated with zoo life, and improve overall health and welfare. With these techniques, we strive to provide the animals with an element of choice and control in their lives.

Although a fun and exciting part of our work, providing enrichment is a challenging job. It’s not as simple as throwing a ball in with the bears and calling it good. It’s a daily process based on goal setting, safety assessments, documentation and observation. Keepers routinely provide enrichment from 5 categories:

 

The next time you stroll Zoo grounds, be sure to study these key principles and look for enrichment around every corner. You never know…there just might be a pop quiz. (For your own enrichment, of course!)

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