While walking through the zoo you may notice different types of toys in our animal exhibits, from the blankets in with our orangutans, ropes on the siamang island or even boxes in with our reptiles. All of these items are considered environmental enrichment. Environmental enrichment is the process of providing stimulating environments for Zoo animals in order for them to demonstrate their species-typical behavior, to allow them to get exercise in their environment, and to enhance their well-being. Enrichment includes the design of stimulating and naturalistic enclosures, the housing of appropriate social groups in zoos, and the introduction of objects, sounds, smells or other stimuli in the animal’s environment.
There are many different ways of providing enrichment to our animals including exhibit design, training with their keepers, scents, sounds, new food items and novel objects like toys. Providing enrichment encourages animals to demonstrate natural behaviors for instance giving an armadillo a box of dirt to dig in. Digging is a natural behavior of armadillos in the wild. Another type of enrichment we use with our armadillos is scent enrichment. Armadillos have poor eyesight and rely on a strong sense of smell to find food, avoid predators and search out each other. Providing scent enrichment helps our armadillos stimulate their sense of smell keeping it finely tuned. We can use many different types of scents with our animals including spices, perfumes, various extracts like vanilla and lemon, pheromones and even predator or prey scents.
If you look at the pets in your own house you may notice that you are already providing enrichment to your animals. Giving a dog, cat or bird a new toy or type of treat, training your pets, and even meeting new people are all types of enrichment.
When working with animals you soon start to save any boxes, paper tubes or newspaper that you may have laying around the house as possible enrichment items. When I go grocery shopping I often see enrichment in the products that I buy.
Next time that you come to the zoo see if you can spot some of the enrichment that we have provided our animals in their exhibits. Until then enjoy some pictures of our armadillos checking out some scents in recycled boxes.