Zoo animals don´t have the same physical and psychological opportunities as their conspecifics in the wild. They don´t have to look for food, escape from predators or protect their territory.
Animals who live in a Zoo might “get bored“ without the activities that would force them to use their senses – and this could cause changes in their behavior. To evoke animals’ natural behavioral repertoire it is important to give them physically and mentally enriching activities that stimulate their senses and prevent abnormal behavior.
Environmental enrichment is a systematic process that will create a challenging environment for animals to enhance their social, physical and psychological well-being. Through the environmental enrichment we encourage animals to make choices and draw out species-specific natural behaviors, provide mental challenges, encourage the animals to be more mobile, and thus enhancing their overall well-being. Besides, through providing environmental enrichment, we give them options and certain control over their environment and reduce frustration and stress. Enrichment keeps animals active and interested in their environment which means that the visitors will have a more interesting experience as well.
Environmental enrichment types:
Enrichment items are usually divided in to five groups. Each category should be incorporated to the animals’ monthly enrichment plan which should be a part of the daily animal husbandry practice.
1. Social enrichment
Social enrichment refers to the opportunity to interact with other animals. Communication stimulates animals’ natural behaviors and instinct. In many cases zoos use artificial items like animal images, masks, and mirrors for that
2. Cognitive enrichment (Manipulative objects)
Cognitive enrichment allows animals to solve various tasks or play with new toys. The aim is to stimulate the mind, which is why animal training belongs here as well. Training session is a new experience for the animals and forces them to think and create connections and learn new behaviors.
3. Physical enrichment
Physical enrichment could mean displacement of existing objects or adding new objects to the animals’ environment. It also means adding complexity to the environment through providing new substrates or creating wallowing areas and mud holes. To use the territory as efficiently as possible, zoo staff create different levels, climbing structures and new places for hiding and resting (for example swings made out of hose).
Sensory enrichment is used to stimulate all of the animals’ senses. This is accomplished through different smells, sounds, materials and new food items, which the animals are not used to.
Enrichment with food includes also new food items, but at the same time the food may be presented in a variety of ways. For example the food is hung onto pole, buried in the substrate or hidden in some object- the purpose is to make the animal move and strive for the catch.
Enviornment enrichment in Tallinn Zoo.