Christmas enrichment reveals animals' skills
Friday 14th December 2012
Christmas enrichment reveals animals' skills
Tortoise with watermelon tree

Many of Taronga’s animals’ amazing skills were on show today during a special environmental enrichment event with a Christmas theme.

The Zoos’ Behavioural Biologist, Dr Vicky Melfi, said: “This is about giving the animals choices and activities that are interesting. We already provide great accommodation and care for the animals at Taronga, so environmental enrichment is the cherry on top. It’s that thing you do that really gives them a more luxurious life, what’s more we change the types of enrichment we give to provide variety and meet the needs of individuals.”

“Sometimes animals choose not to use what we give them, or the effects are so subtle, for example when we provide different scents, which it isn’t always obvious that animals are being enriched.”

It’s a far cry from a ‘bung it in and see’ approach when Dr Melfi and her team provide animals with activities like noise-making, food-filled maracas that are created from careful research, collaboration with keepers and a predetermined goal. At this time of the year it can also have a Christmas theme.

Giving animals colourful, wrapped boxes lets them choose to destroy them, fulfilling their interest and inquisitiveness in what the boxes are and what might be in them.

Activities were prepared for Malayan sun bears, giraffe, Aldabra tortoise, White-tailed black cockatoo and meerkats, showcasing their remarkable skills and abilities. Some tore open boxes, others heard the sounds of grain rattling in a piece of pipe – each activity has an expected or known outcome to benefit the animal.

“We think of apes as being dexterous but a lot of our birds are extremely dextrous too, instead of hands and fingers, they use with their tongues and feet. Birds are extremely clever and can do many, many things that a lot of our primates can’t do, seen with the cockatoos today.”

Animals have many skills that are superior to humans, such as being able to smell or see differences between ripe and non-ripe fruit.

The Malayan sun bears, ‘Mary’ and ‘Mr Hobbs’ enjoyed manipulating decorated boxes and paper mache piñatas filled with some of their favourite foods.  With a tongue that can be up to 30cm long and perfectly adapted to retrieve honey from beehives they made short work of what was hidden inside.

Taronga Zoo is open from 9.3am to 5.00pm every day of the school holidays. Don’t miss Dinosaurs in the Wild – Free with general admission and only until February 3rd, 2013.