What’s the Deal With Animal Enrichment?

Animal enrichment is a big deal at the zoo.  We even dedicate one of our summer events, Ice Day, to enriching animals.  Zoo keepers, trainers, and vet staff spend a lot of time planning the animals’ enrichment calendars, but what exactly is animal enrichment, and why do we do 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.

The zoo provides a variety of enrichment for animals:

Edible Enrichment  Tengku the orangutan digs for tasty seeds inside a pumpkin (2)

Finding food in the wild can be a complex activity for an animal. For instance, orangutans find ripe fruit in the wild, then forage carefully for the seeds, which they eat.  Pumpkins are an edible enrichment item for the zoo’s orangutans because the animals must use this natural foraging behavior to extract and eat the pumpkin seeds.

A capuchin monkey with ice watermarkSensory Enrichment

Many animals have a well-developed sense of smell to find prey, locate water, and avoid predators. The zoo’s capuchin monkeys love to sniff out spices scattered in their exhibits.  On a previous Ice Day, zoo keepers froze fragrant spices into ice blocks.  Upon finding an ice block, a capuchin flung it across the island!

Gorgon's brushing komodo dragonTextural Enrichment

In a natural habitat, an animal will encounter new textures every day as it forages, hunts, and finds shelter. At the zoo, keepers brush the Komodo dragon’s rough scales with a long-handled brush (from a safe distance, of course!)

 

goat food enrichment puzzle feederProblem-Solving Enrichment

Zoo keepers encourage animals to use their natural intelligence by hiding food in “puzzle feeders.” The friendly goats in the Indiana Family Farm use their problem-solving skills while they work as a group to reach tasty lettuce hidden in the feeders.

 

sea lion 600x600Training Enrichment

Zoo guests can watch the sea lions receive training enrichment every day at the 11:30 AM and 3 PM feeding shows. By requesting behaviors and rewarding the sea lions with fish, zoo keepers provide an intense and entertaining enrichment session. The sea lions get both physical and mental exercise, and the keepers develop a trusting relationship with the sea lions.

 

Do you want to get involved?  Join us at an upcoming Animal Enrichment Workshop, where you’ll make some of the enrichment objects that zoo animals receive every day!

How to Make a Lion Eat His Dinner

Bill the lion needs no introduction.  His laid-back attitude and stunning physique make him a crowd favorite.  Thanks to his penchant for resting on the exhibit window, he’s in thousands of family photos.  Could he be any more of a superstar?

“I think Bill just enjoys being awesome,” says zoo keeper Jennifer McDermott. 

Bill was only two years old with a scruffy little mane when he debuted at the African Journey’s grand opening in 2009.  As he prepares to celebrate his 7th birthday on July 22, he has matured into a beautiful 435-pound adult male lion.

But amid all the hype, Bill has a few bad habits.  According to McDermott, “Bill is the pickiest eater I’ve ever seen.”

Because lions eat only one thing – meat – this can be a problem.  The zoo buys a frozen prepared meat diet (similar to a tube of ground beef) by the ton.  When a new batch of meat arrives, keepers know that Bill will snub his finicky nose at it, at least for the first few days.

“He makes what I call a ‘yuck’ face, like a little kid,” says McDermott.  “He’ll scrunch up his eyes, stick out his tongue, and walk away from his food.”  In lion-speak, this apparently means “I don’t wanna eat this, and you can’t make me!”

McDermott doesn’t worry about Bill’s diva-like attitude regarding his dinner.  “He eventually eats it,” she says. 

Unlike Bill, Ina the lioness is very interested in her food.  When McDermott calls the cats to dinner at the end of the day, Ina makes a beeline for the meat placed in their night quarters.  Bill, on the other hand, takes his sweet time.  “We just wait him out,” says McDermott.  When he does decide to come inside, “He walks very slowly,” she says. 

Bad habits aside, McDermott is in awe of Bill.  “I love looking into his eyes,” she says.  “He’s just beautiful.”

Read more about lions here.

You can help feed the lions at a VIP Experience.

Click the photos below to enlarge.