In the video above, Renee the elephant stretches to reach for hay in a basket suspended up high in her barn. This enrichment feature physically challenges her to get food in the same way that wild elephants might have to occasionally forage in treetops for food. She is also challenged intellectually. The basket is too high for her so she solves the problem with a clever idea.
What is enrichment?
Enrichment is part of the Zoo’s mission of inspiring others to join us in caring for animals and conserving the natural world.
Enrichment is the addition or modification of an animal’s environment that encourages the animals to make choices, exhibit natural, or species-appropriate behavior, presents mental challenges, encourages physical activity/exercise and enhances the animal’s overall well being.
An animal’s life can be enriched in a variety of ways. Enrichment often takes the form of modifications to exhibits. This provides animals with additional three-dimensional space for climbing and resting . It also provides visual barriers from cagemates as well as the public, which can help to alleviate social pressures. Viewing platforms can be built into exhibits, allowing carnivores the opportunity to view typical prey items in other areas of the Zoo.
The YouTube video above shows some enrichment items being prepared, and various animals interacting with enrichment items in their exhibits.
So why is enrichment so important?
In the wild, animals spend much of their time hunting for food, building nests and warding off predators. The animals at the Toledo Zoo are provided with the highest quality of care. This means they are fed well balanced diets that include ample amounts of food, they receive regular medical exams, and they are free from predation. Often, that very quality of care can discourage the animals from exercising some of their natural behaviors and talents, because they’re no longer necessary. A well rounded enrichment program can provide the animals with activities that simulate these natural behaviors. More specifically, a well thought out enrichment program can also
• Increase animal activity and exercise
• Decrease the occurrence of stereotypical and other aberrant behavior by directing animal energy into more productive activities
• Provide the animals with choices and control over certain aspects of their environment (what to eat, temperature and lighting gradients, whom to interact with, etc.)
• Improve breeding success and conservation efforts by housing animals in appropriate social groups that allow for normal physical and psychological development
• Increase visitor appreciation by displaying animals in stimulating and naturalistic environments, allowing guests to view the animals in situations that mimic those of their wild counterparts.
Enrichment is an integral part of daily animal care. That animals need stimulation and opportunities to make choices in their environments is no longer a question. It is now a new challenge facing animal caregivers to provide the animals with environments that meet all of their physical and psychological needs. Enrichment comes in many forms, whether variety within their habitat, food, scents, items to manipulate, investigation, and even animal training.
What a workout!
In the video above, Louie the elephant enjoys ‘working out’ by manipulating a log weighing over a ton as part of his enrichment. If his strength impresses you now, wait until he’s a full-grown adult male! Video supplied by Toledo Zoo elephant manager Ben Whitebread.