What is enrichment?
Enrichment refers to anything — an object or an experience — that elicits natural behaviors and exploration of the environment from an animal.
Why is it important at the Zoo?
In the wild, animals are constantly thinking about and searching for food and avoiding predators. In the zoo, life is easier — animals don’t have to do either. However, it is essential that an animal is challenged both mentally and physically. It keeps the animal stay healthy and engaged. That is why enrichment is a crucial part of animal care at The Maryland Zoo.
Examples of Enrichment
Meat-Stuffed Papier Mache
At the Zoo, a 4-foot-tall paper mache elephant can elicit a lion’s natural predatory behaviors, if stuffed with meat. The lion doesn’t really think that paper mache object is an elephant, but smelling the meat inside encourages natural predatory behaviors in the lion such as stalking, pouncing, and attacking. The paper mache elephant also encourages natural feeding behaviors. When lions eat, they rip into a carcass. Give a lion at the Zoo a paper mache elephant stuffed with meat, and it will shred the “elephant” just as it would a carcass.
Ice treats are a favorite for the Zoo’s polar bear. Keepers might freeze fish, lard, fruits, and vegetables in Gatorade, which Anoki then breaks apart to get to the treats inside. To sense the food inside, she relies on her powerful sense of smell. To get to the food inside, she uses natural behaviors such as scratching, licking, and biting. Keepers keep things entertaining by changing up the mold of the ice treat, too, using everything from regular ice trays to huge garbage cans.
In the wild, chimps fish termites out of termite mounds using tools like twigs. Chimp keepers try to replicate this experience by creating feeding tubes such as paper towel rolls stuffed with food. The chimps will use twigs and straw to get to the treats hidden inside.
Sometimes, enrichment can be invisible. Many animals use their olfactory sense as a way to navigate the world around them — whether it’s to detect predators, to find food, or to know if it’s time to breed. There are many examples of olfactory enrichment around the Zoo in the form of hidden scents. Take the cheetahs, for example. Keepers will take old bedding (usually hay) from the Zebra Barn and put it in with the cheetahs. Smelling zebras definitely gets the cheetahs interested in exploring their environment!
Believe it or not, training is also a form of enrichment for many animals at the Zoo. For animals as large and intelligent as elephants, training is essential. Training challenges elephants to think and respond in new ways each day while also providing keepers with a safe and effective means to manage the world’s largest land animal. Whether it’s raising a foot, opening a mouth, or shifting position, training is an excellent and essential form of enrichment.