The wild world of enrichment
Hello everyone, it’s Courtney from the Primate Team! I cannot believe it is already November. So much has happened this year: the opening of the all-new African Savanna opening; Lulu the gorilla giving birth to Floyd; Henry and Jasiri the gorillas moving to new homes; and all the babies in our small African primate area being born! Between all these exciting events, we have still had all our scheduled enrichment days. Every year, throughout the year, the Zoo puts on several fun enrichment days when guests can see how the animals interact with novel enrichment items. Zoo Atlanta has a robust enrichment program in place year-round for all species, but these are the days when our Members and guests really get to see enrichment in action throughout the Zoo. They include animal awareness days, holidays and our Play the Animal Way event. We recently celebrated our Halloween enrichment day on October 26. This is one of my favorite days, because all the animals get to interact with pumpkins! So now you may be asking, what exactly is enrichment?
Enrichment allows animals to demonstrate species-typical natural behaviors and to exercise control and choice over their environment. Every animal at Zoo Atlanta is given enrichment that caters to its natural behaviors. For example, in the wild, gorillas typically spend about 60% of their time foraging. With this in mind, in zoological settings like Zoo Atlanta, the enrichment given to the gorillas focuses on increasing the amount of time they spend foraging and eating their food. In the habitats, you may notice our termite mounds, items we hang from the rocks or cement trees, or food that is scattered throughout the habitats. All of these items or processes of providing food to the gorillas encourages them to use their brains and spend time on foraging. In general, the goals of enrichment are to encourage activity levels and natural behaviors and to provide a complex environment with many choices, just to name a few.
However, enrichment goals may differ depending on the species. For instance, an animal like a tiger may have more scent-based enrichment, because tigers typically use their noses more, or orangutans may get puzzle feeders that are more complex than what gorillas get, because orangutans are extremely quick learners. Every animal is different. This is why here at Zoo Atlanta, every animal team is working hard to roll out what is called a Behavioral-Based Enrichment Program. This means every enrichment item created and given to an animal is designed with a behavior goal in mind that is specific to that species. For gorillas, that behavior goal could be to increase the amount of time the kids spending playing, or simply to increase the amount of time they spend eating. For elephants, the goal could be to increase the amount of time they use their tusks versus their trunks, and so on and so forth.
If you missed the Halloween enrichment on October 26, be sure to save the date for our last enrichment day of the year, featuring holiday enrichment on December 7. Before I say “see you later,” I would also like to give a big shout out to our Volunteer Enrichment Team for being all-stars when putting together the animals’ enrichment for these exciting days throughout the year. The animals love it and the animal care teams appreciate it! As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post. I hope this gives everyone a better understanding of enrichment and why it is so important.
(Photo by Jennifer Williams)
Keeper I, Primates