Why is Enrichment Important?
Published: Sep 16, 2015In captivity, food and water is supplied, territory is already secured, social groupings are usually fairly stable and structured, there are no predators and quite often mates are selected for them. With all the extra free time, the animal will have a need for new and entertaining or challenging activities. That is where the role of enrichment comes in.
In captivity, food and water is supplied, territory is already secured, social groupings are usually fairly stable and structured, there are no predators and quite often mates are selected for them. With all the extra free time, the animal will have a need for new and entertaining or challenging activities. That is where the role of enrichment comes in.
But what does it actually mean? Environmental enrichment is the process of providing stimulating environments for Zoo animals in order for them to demonstrate their species-typical behaviour, to allow them exercise, control or choice over their environment and to enhance their well-being.
There are 5 main categories in which enrichment can be provided and with knowledge and a little imagination, there are literally thousands of ways in which our keepers improve the daily lives of the animals in their care.
Food based enrichment is the most widely used method of enrichment. The aim of food based enrichment is to prolong feeding times. Food based enrichment can be as simple as leaving the fruit and vegetables whole for our Parrots or throwing them onto the roof for our Marmosets or placing food through the bars for our Capuchins so they have to pull at the food to get it through. Whole foods are placed in with our Swinhoe’s striped squirrel to make the squirrel work for its food as well as to help wear their teeth down. Food can also be cut very small so that it can be scattered through the exhibit so that the animals have to forage through the enclosure which is commonly used for our grazing animals such as our tapirs, capybara, deer, zebra etc.
Other methods include hiding food in boxes or paper sacks like with our black and white ruffed lemur at Christmas.
Sensory enrichment can encompass any of the five senses, sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. The most common form of sensory enrichment used is olfactory enrichment; which utilises sense of smell. Items such as herbs and spices, perfume and deodorant, catnip for the cats or even toothpaste or mouthwash can be dotted around the exhibit before allowing the animal access to it. This type of enrichment will normally induce extra scent marking from the animal reaffirming its territory boundaries. This photo shows Amahle rubbing herself on some zebra bedding.
Our otters have been given ice before as they love to play with them and it is cold to touch.
Cognitive enrichment utilises novel objects that occupy the animal's time in a captive setting as well as providing and enhancing an animal’s mental stimulation. The sort of novel objects that you may see used in this way include Boomer balls, puzzle feeders, Kong toys, tyres, cardboard tubes and fireman's hoses. Below shows Boss with the lions favourite enrichment their boomer ball.
Our Humboldt penguins were very intrigued about the bubble machine.
Below is a papermache ball stuffed with straw and mealworms for our Squirrel monkeys.
Social enrichment involves housing an animal with its own species or/and other species that they would naturally associate with or encounter in the wild. For example our African savannah, our lake or our bird exhibits which include a variety of different species which can interact with each other as observed in the wild as well as having others of their own kind to encourage breeding.
The physical habitat of the animal play an important role in the animal’s welfare, meeting their physical requirements and providing a positive environment in which for them to live. All our enclosures at Newquay Zoo are designed for the animal so they can express natural behaviours. For example our Macaque enclosure below shows a lot of ropes, swings and high up platforms as well as browse being placed on top of them to imitate the macaques being high up in the trees.
Enrichment can also be important in reducing abnormal behaviours. If an animal becomes bored or stressed, this can lead to more serious behavioural or health problems. To make sure this doesn’t happen we act like detectives looking at what the animal would be doing with its time if it were in the wild and look at what we can provide for the animal to ensure it doesn’t get bored.
At Newquay Zoo, we also make sure enrichment is recorded in a diary, monitored, cleaned and is also regularly changed to avoid habituation.
To sum up Enrichment
- Implementing enrichment has been seen to improve brain development and function.
- Enrichment can also enhance learning and memory and improve an animal’s interaction with its environment.
- These factors all combine to reduce an animal’s fear response, or perceived ‘stress’ levels promoting reproduction due to increased well-being.
- Such known benefits can only enhance the lives of zoo animals improving animal welfare and should therefore be part of day to day husbandry.
So next time you’re in the Zoo and you see a ball in with the lions or a rope in the Macaque enclosure, try not to see them simply as play things, but think of a reason behind them being there and what wild behaviour is being encouraged!
Would you like to help?
A lot of enrichment materials that the zoo uses are everyday items that can be recycled and reused for our animals. Items such as clothes, bed sheets, toilet roll tubes, newspapers, and magazines are some of the many items that the zoo receives from our volunteers and the community. These donations support enrichment and better the lives of our animals so if anyone has anything they think would benefit our animals here at Newquay Zoo please feel free to drop them off as it would be very much appreciated.