Interacting with Enrichment
The incorporation of environmental (behavioral) enrichment in the daily husbandry practices of the animals cared for in AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums is required by AZA Accreditation Standards . The AZA Behavior Scientific Advisory Group (BAG) defined enrichment as a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare.
Types of Enrichment
It is important to have knowledge of a species’ natural behaviors and physiology when developing enrichment program. Several categories of enrichment are then used to enhance that species’ behavioral, physical, social, cognitive, and psychological well being. These categories are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, however each, if relevant to the species, should be incorporated into an animal’s enrichment plan.
Environmental Enrichment Devices
Environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) are objects that can be manipulated by the animal. These objects may be novel or pre-existing. Natural EEDs may include browse, large and small branches, wood wool, hay, and flowers however these items should be kept clean to prevent bacterial growth. Man-made EEDs may include premade items such as car wash roller brushes or strips, Boomer balls, tires, and Kong toys, or constructed items such as puzzle boxes, piñatas, and various PVC contraptions.
Habitat design is an important consideration for providing enrichment. Habitats should provide a variety of substrates, levels, and complexities. Considerations should be given to useable space versus total space, and ease of reaching or changing platforms, tiers, ropes, nesting/denning areas, feed/water dispensers, and crevices/crannies for EED/enrichment food hiding.
Animal sensory systems are typically specialized by species and play crucial roles in their survival. Sensory enrichment is designed to address the animal’s sense of smell, touch, hearing, vision, and taste and elicit species-specific response, territorial, reproductive or hunting behaviors. Olfactory stimuli may include natural predator, pheromone, or prey scents or novel scents such as spices or perfumes. Tactile stimuli may include a variety of EEDs that can be manipulated including materials of different textures such as straw, soft blankets, paper, burlap, cardboard, or wood. Auditory stimuli may include the presentation of natural sounds or animal vocalizations recordings. Visual stimuli may include EEDs of different colors, those that move by wind or water current, animals in the line of sight from other habitats, video presentations, or mirrors. Gustatory stimuli include food enrichment items, flavored sprays, or beverages.
Food can be presented in a variety of ways elicit feeding, hunting, foraging behaviors, problem-solving strategies, and to facilitate behavioral conditioning. Food may be fresh, frozen, soft, hard, smooth, rough, heavy, light, cold, or and may be incorporated into puzzle boxes, hidden in or scattered about the habitat, or buried in the substrate.
Social groupings should resemble those observed in the wild to facilitate feeding, grooming, social, territorial, and courtship behaviors. Mixed species exhibits may also provide symbiotic or complementary activities between the species.
Behavioral conditioning for animal husbandry and research behaviors provides cognitive stimulation that increases the intellectual focus of an animal. Animals voluntarily participate in these training sessions to maintain established or learn new behaviors.
Goal-oriented enrichment plans should be developed that identify what species-specific behaviors are desired from the animal, how the enrichment will be created or developed to elicit these behaviors while ensuring animal safety, and a means to assess and document the animal’ responses to it. Each plan should take into account the species natural history and individual history. The plans should be tailored to address these factors and also be dynamic to ensure that any changes needed to improve the enrichment or accentuate the behaviors can be well-documented.
Enrichment devices and strategies should be presented on a varied schedule and in a variety of contexts to make sure the animals do not become desensitized or habituated to them. The animal care staff should maintain a detailed schedule for what type of enrichment will be introduced for a specified date, time, duration in the habitat (if it is appropriate to remove it), location, and type of presentation that is randomized. These records should also provide a summary of the animal’s responses to the enrichment to ensure that safety continues to be a priority and that the animals are still stimulated by it.