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Orangutan enrichment: pinecones, smear boards and more!

Hey, Zoo Atlanta fans! My name is Samantha, and I have been a Seasonal Primate Keeper here for over a month. For the majority of that time I have been helping the Orangutan Care Team with feeding, cleaning, diets, and enrichment. One of my favorite things so far has been creating enrichment for the orangutan groups. Enrichment is a way for animals to exercise species-typical behaviors by using sensory stimulation, social interactions, or items to manipulate to obtain food. With the orangutans at Zoo Atlanta, we use many different items they can manipulate with hands, feet, or browse sticks to obtain the rewards inside.

Some of the enrichment items that I enjoy preparing are ice pop treats, smear boards, and pinecones. The weather here in Atlanta can get sweltering in the summer months, and who doesn’t enjoy a nice, cool ice treat on a hot day? To prepare the pops, we have several silicone molds which we can fill with either water or juice. Then we drop in some tasty snacks such as raisins, peanuts, grapes, cut-up bananas, or sunflower seeds. We freeze the treats and then give them to the orangutans to enjoy. As the ice melts, they have to lick or use their fingers to get out the snacks that may still be frozen inside.

The smear boards and pinecones are prepared almost the same way and are just as popular. Smear boards are made by taking square plastic lids that were upcycled and constructed to hang on the outside of the mesh for each indoor night area. We take the oats and mix with water to make the oatmeal and smear some on the boards. Then, we can drop treats such as cut-up bananas or sunflower seeds to stick to the boards for some added enjoyment. We freeze the boards overnight and then hang them on the mesh for each orangutan to enjoy as evening enrichment. It is quite satisfying to see as we unhook them from the mesh the next morning that they were licked clean!

For the pinecones, we first clean them thoroughly. After that, we pick out enough pinecones so each orangutan can enjoy two of them. Again, we prepare the oatmeal, although sometimes we use mashed banana instead of water for some extra sweetness. Next, we smear the oatmeal mixture all over the pinecone so that it’s completely covered. We freeze the pinecones overnight and then hide them around the habitat or indoor area so the orangutans have to forage or search for them in the hay or grass. Once they find the pinecones, they enjoy licking the oatmeal out of the scales, which makes for a delicious, albeit time-consuming, snack.

Enrichment is not only used for the orangutans; it’s also a regular part of the care for all of the animals at Zoo Atlanta. So next time you’re visiting us, do a quick scan of each habitat and see if you can spot enrichment items inside, and enjoy observing the animals and how they manipulate the items to obtain the tasty treats!

Bon Appetit!

Samantha L.,
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

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