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What goes into animal enrichment?

Hey everyone, my name is Christina, and I am a Mammal Swing Keeper here at the Zoo, which means I get to work with both the hoofstock animals and the carnivores. When you come to the Zoo, you might hear the term “enrichment” or might even notice it when you are watching the animals in their habitats. This could look like anything from a big ball in with the lion brothers; puzzle feeders in with the gorillas; logs or branches hanging in with the giraffes; or even things you can’t see, like spices and cologne! Enrichment is anything that makes an animal’s environment more stimulating. This could be mentally, physically, or even socially stimulating. Sounds easy enough, right? Just toss a toy in with the rhinos and they will have fun! Well, not exactly. There is actually a very complicated process to what goes in with the animals here at Zoo Atlanta. It all starts out with an idea, and care team members come up with an idea of an enrichment item. We can get ideas from other zoos that have some cool enrichment, the internet, or sometimes it’s a brand-new item that we create!

Okay, so now we have our idea, what’s next? Well, that is just the first step. Once you have your idea for an enrichment item, you must figure out the specifics and what animals you would want to give it to. Some items can be given to a wide range of animals, from a warthog to an orangutan! During this process, you must figure out the measurements of the item, determine what your goal behind the item is (do you want the animal to use it for feeding, resting, playing, etc.), and most importantly, ensure there is no way the proposed enrichment item could cause injury or harm to any of the animals.

With all this information, you then submit an enrichment approval form that goes through our Animal Care Team department leaders and our Veterinary Team. They will give the stamp of approval of whether the animal is allowed to receive the item. Once you have figured out that information, you have to either build it or purchase it.

So now we have our item, and we figured out who we are giving it to. Next, we must trial it. This is done with every animal you want to be able to have this item. During this trial, you give the enrichment to the animal three times and observe them with it during the day. Then the fourth time, you give it to them overnight. During these trials, you are monitoring what the animal does with the object. Did they do what you think they were going to do? This is the time to adjust if necessary whether or not this is a successful and enjoyable enrichment item for this animal.

We want the animals to have a fun and enriching time every day! So next time you walk through the Zoo and wonder about that big ball that is in with the lions, now you know how much time and thought goes into it, and it’s not JUST a ball!


Christina D.
Mammal Swing Keeper II

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl