By Lauren Koenig
So how does an animal caretaker design enrichment for animals at a zoo or aquarium?
First, the keepers identify several aspects of an animal’s environment where modifications can be made and how they meet an animal’s social, cognitive, physical, sensory, and food requirements. Then, they design enrichment strategies to meet specific goals, such as enhancing an animal’s exploratory behavior or motivating them to use their auditory abilities more frequently. For example, adding swinging ropes to a lemur exhibit encourages lemurs to use the same climbing muscles and jumping behaviors that wild lemurs employ to survive in the forests of Madagascar. Keepers will go one step further and change the locations of the ropes throughout the year, providing a variable and unpredictable environment to stimulate their curiosity, challenge their problem-solving skills, and prevent boredom or frustration. Presenting food in different forms or hidden inside unusual containers can encourage other natural investigative and foraging behaviors. Many of these exhibit additions might not appear exciting to the casual observer, but new scents in the form of fur or bark from another animal’s exhibit are especially enticing for olfaction-dependent hunters like bears and lynx. Permanent fixtures like pools and mud holes offer animals a place to swim, play, and cool off on a hot, sunny day.
(photo credit pxfuel, CC license)
About the Author
Lauren is a graduate student at Michigan State University studying the behavior and physiology of electric fish. Since obtaining her B.A. in biology from Vanderbilt University, she worked on several wildlife research projects throughout North and South America. She is excited to work with Scientista to increase accessibility to research and expand outreach efforts geared for women in STEM. Her experience in science writing includes an internship with publisher John Wiley & Sons Inc., working as science editor for the Vanderbilt McLaughlin neurology lab, and serving on the staff of her university’s newspaper. In her free time, Lauren enjoys wildlife photography, kayaking, and dance.