Environmental enrichment is a concept that involves the adaptation of captive animal environments for the well-being of the inhabitants.
Modern day zoos strive to implement husbandry practices that result in the best standards of welfare for the animals in their collection. Historically, information about the behavioural biology and natural history of individual species was somewhat limited. This meant that zoo animals were frequently denied appropriate opportunities to have their lives enriched. It was often ignorance, rather than idleness, that stood in the way of good, sound animal care.
Nowadays, the potential for allowing zoo animals the freedom to control aspects of their daily lives and perform species-specific behaviours is much greater. Zoo staff are far better informed about the physiological and psychological requirements of animals for which they are responsible. When an environmental enrichment programme is thoughtfully designed and correctly adhered to all animals should be provided with occupation, mental stimulation and physical exercise.
Lola has worked out that if she pulls on the rope she can catch the log.
There are many obvious benefits to the integrating of such a programme into the management of zoo animals. When an animal is being positively influenced by environmental enrichment it can:
- Fulfil a diverse range of highly motivated behaviours
- Advance and use its cognitive behaviours
- Cope with environmental and other challenges in a normal way
- Avoid developing abnormal behaviours
- Establish behaviour patterns which closely represent its wild lifestyle
Bringing these opportunities to life can be relatively easy or extremely testing. The enrichment plan for a particular animal, be it a tortoise or a tiger, must be tailor made to suit that individual. This means taking into account the full natural history of the species alongside its known personal history. What works for one animal may have a much reduced, or even detrimental, effect on another.
Designing a comprehensive yet practical environmental enrichment programme is a complex undertaking and it's success is dependant on a dedicated team of people comprising of:
- Management staff
- Animal care staff
- Veterinary staff
- Maintenance staff
Once a framework is established and protocols are in place, the fun can begin! With sound scientific knowledge, creative imagination, and a lot of hard work the programme can be lifted from the desk to the animal's doors. Enrichment often works best when provided as novelty. Therefore, it is essential that the programme is both expansive and progressive. Enrichment methods and techniques must be constantly evaluated and invented to keep the programme fresh and prevent it from malfunctioning.
Tug of War is a great workout for Zia.