Enrichment, it’s how we ensure our animals are mentally and physically challenged each day.
It's how we further enrich their lives, and many of the things we do here at the Zoo, you can also do with your pets at home.
At Taronga we usually group enrichment into three categories:
- Olfactory enrichment which means smells
- Food based enrichment, including solids, liquids and even blood trails
- Mechanical enrichment – items that the animals can play with or pull apart
In the wild, animals would come across the smells of lots of different animals. At Taronga we replicate this with ‘olfactory enrichment’. The keepers often use fresh herbs, spices and bedding, mulch and branches from other animals’ exhibits.
Food that is not part of the everyday diet for the animal or meals given in a different way can also add variety to your pet’s life. At the Zoo we cut meat up and scatter it all over the exhibit or place food items into treat balls or cardboard boxes. At home, instead of giving your pet a bowl of food in the same place each day, you might like to try freezing some of their food such as cat’s milk, or placing food in a challenging place that your cat or dog has to work out how to reach. This will keep them stimulated and their tails wagging.
Mechanical enrichment is usually seen the most by Zoo visitors because it’s really obvious. This can be hessian sacks, calico bags, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, large balls, barrels and tubs. If you see something unusual in an exhibit let a staff member know, but it’s most likely to be part of the activities keepers give the animals to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. You can do the same with your pets at home by giving them different toys to play with, poles to scratch and climb or hiding treats in boxes that they can tear apart.
Other forms of enrichment that are a little harder to achieve in a Zoo include changing the environment completely. We recently did this with our big cats (LINK). This is of course is much easier with pets. Here’s one idea you might like to try. If you have a deciduous tree, rake the leaves into a huge pile and hide a favourite toy of treat right in the centre.
Some enrichment techniques can be a little scary or daunting to any animal, so it’s best to take it slow. You are the best judge of their sensitivity and how they will handle the new item or environment.
On your next trip to the Zoo try and spot some enrichment techniques in action.
- Deb, Carnivore Keeper