Animal Enrichment

What is it?

Enrichment means providing a stimulating environment that offers physical and mental challenges for an animal. When elements of an animal’s zoo environment mimic the problem-solving opportunities they encounter in the wild, the animals exhibit natural behaviors. Enrichment can help zoo animals thrive socially, mentally, and physically. Want to help create enrichment items for zoo animals? Join us at an Animal Enrichment Workshop.

Enrichment happens every day at the zoo. Keepers work with the behavior management team to develop, test, and evaluate new enrichment ideas.  Some of the best ideas are simple, inexpensive, and easy to incorporate into an animal’s daily routine.  Here are a few examples:

Edible Enrichment

Finding food in the wild can be a complex activity for an animal. For instance, birds may fly to locate ripe fruit, use stones to crack hard shells, scratch the dirt for insects, or wade through water for fish.  These activities provide exercise and require sharp senses!  Zoo birds encounter food on branches, in water, or hidden among the vegetation.

Sensory Enrichment

Many animals have a well-developed sense of smell to find prey, locate water, and avoid predators. The zoo’s leopard, lions, and tigers are provided with the opportunity to sniff out spices scattered in their exhibits. After finding it, many even roll in it!

Textural Enrichment

In a natural habitat, an animal will encounter new textures every day as it forages, hunts, and finds shelter. At the zoo, keepers hang large scrub brushes along the walls of the giraffe barn.  The giraffes often choose to rub their long necks against the bristles!

Problem-Solving Enrichment

Zoo keepers encourage primates to use their natural intelligence by hiding food in “puzzle feeders.” The monkeys, apes, and lemurs use their problem-solving skills to reach tasty treats hidden in the feeders.

Training Enrichment

Training enrichment is all about choices for the animals.  Zoo keepers use positive reinforcement to train many of the animals at the zoo.  When an animal chooses to do a desired behavior, they receive a tasty treat in return.  These training sessions are dynamic and enriching to the animals.  For example, when the sea lions receive training enrichment at the 11AM and 3PM shows, they get mental and physical stimulation, lots of fish to eat, and they develop a trusting relationship with their zoo keepers.

See enrichment in action!

Askari the hyena plays with coconuts in the water.  The coconuts are part of the hyenas’ daily enrichment routine to provide physical and mental activity.