As I’m sure you already know, many zoos across the nation participate in a practice known as enrichment. Just as the name implies an enrichment is a way of enriching the animal’s lives by introducing something new and exciting to their environment to stimulate them mentally, physically, and naturally. Deb Martin, a big cat keeper here at Tanganyika, explained to me like this, “If you give your house cat a ball or toy to bat around that would be enrichment. He would usually do that with his prey but since he has no prey you substitute it with a toy so he has something to play with.” So usually, in enrichment, something new (such as a toy, a new way of presenting the animal’s meal or even a new smell) is introduced to the animal’s exhibit or environment and through that enrichment the animal is stimulated.
Stimulate is a verb that means to encourage in such a way that it brings about activity be it physical or mental. That being said there are a verity of ways to stimulate an animal and several different types of stimulation. As seen in the picture we have introduced a Christmas tree to the clouded leopard exhibit and these Christmas trees are especially stimulating for the cats. The clouded leopards love to have something new to climb on and interact with, which is called habitat enrichment, where you introduce a new element to the habitat to cause the animal to rediscover their surroundings. Another reason the clouded leopards like their new tree is because they like the way it smells, tastes, and feels. This is called sensory enrichment, where the animal is able learn about a new part of their environment through the use of their keen senses. These Christmas trees were also in used as enrichment for other animals such as the black and indian rhinos, the colobus monkeys, the snow leopards, the amur leopards, and the servals. When the Christmas tree is given to the primates it is often used as a food enrichment. This is when the keeper hides different fruits and nuts inside the tree so that the animals have to forage to find their food.
Through the primary goal of the enrichment is to stimulate our animals and keep them active it’s also is very fun for the animals. The keepers are able to get a better sense of the animal’s personality by watching how it interacts with different items, smells, and foods. Though from the animal’s perspective they are just getting new toys to play with. Since winter is practically already here the animals here at Tanganyika are spending more and more time inside, so they are going to need more enrichment then usual to help keep them stimulated and busy during the winter months ahead. We even have an amazon wish list put together if you want to help us enrich the lives of the animals in our care. To get an enrichment gift for an animal of your choice click HERE! If you want to get updates about our animals and see how Tanganyika is growing click HERE!