At the zoo an enrichment is something given to the animals to “enrich” their lives. That is, it engages their mind and body. It can be food, a treat, a puzzle, a scent, or something different placed in their exhibit or even just a changing of perches or structures in their exhibit. Keepers must be very creative to constantly think of new enrichments for each animal that are also safe for the animals and the keepers. Some examples of enrichments are cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, puzzle food finders, plastic containers, old tires, wood and rope structures, cat nip, perfumes, body sprays, spices and food treats.
Behavioral enrichment is training of the animals to bring out natural behaviors of each species. Behavioral enrichment training is very important to be able to monitor the health of the animals everyday with very little anxiety to the animals and keeper. For example, the keepers train the California sea lions everyday to be able to check over their overall body and teeth health by asking them to perform certain behaviors. While training they are able to apply a daily medicine to our older male’s eyes that helps with cataracts. Without this training it would be impossible to apply the medicine to a 500 pound sea lion. The training is done with positive reinforcement. Basically, they get a treat if they do the behavior that was asked of them.
This past weekend it was the female orangutan Ibu and the Malayan sun bear Heliana’s birthdays. They were treated to a decorated festive exhibit, cake of their liking and lots of enrichment presents to open. I was only able to catch Heliana’s birthday celebration. She was excited and curious about her presents and exhibit and did not know where to begin. Although, her nose led her to what she wanted first, some fresh watermelon!
Enrich your own life.
We as humans need some enrichment as well. Yummy foods, puzzles to make us think, and exercise all increase our quality of life. For me, enrichments need to be constantly changing. I would be a tough zoo animal as I would get bored with items very quickly and my keepers would have to constantly be thinking of new ways to keep me happy. For today my enrichments will be home made cinnamon rolls (trying out a new recipe), some exercise by riding my bike to the store, reading a book, and studying spanish.
My other enrichments, the animals at the zoo and in particular, these 3 crazy ladies below. In November they will turn 4 and are still young and full of energy. They stalk visitors and sometimes try to pounce on visitors through the glass. So playful and happy. The other day I was rolling a cart by their exhibit and it was like a kid seeing one of their favorite toys just out of their reach.
Silly silly ladies. Take some time each and every day to enrich your life and make you smile. These girls do, and they even do it in 100 degree heat.