What is Enrichment?

What is Enrichment?
A vital part of animal care, enrichment is what our keepers provide our animals to encourage species-specific behavior (like rolling in scents for wolves). Enrichment also gives our animals new experiences and engages them in new games, giving our animals both mental and physical exercise. From our Aldabra tortoises to our gorillas, each animal is given a variety of foods, activities, toys, and experiences to keep them busy. Enrichment also allows our animals to make choices and have some control over their world – which is the key to ensuring happy animals.

Enrichment from Food
In the wild, animals spend a large part of the time hunting or foraging for food. At the Zoo, our keepers will use food in different ways to stimulate these natural behaviors. This might mean giving an animal a new food that they’ve never seen before. Or maybe our keepers will give them foods that have to be peeled or cracked open. Freezing food inside ice blocks not only makes the animals have to problem-solve to get their food, it helps to keep them cool on hot summer days. Keepers also will hide food in an enclosure or seal it up in a container, encouraging the natural foraging behaviors of certain animals.

Enrichment from Toys and Experience
If you have a dog at home, it probably has a lot of toys like rubber balls and hard plastic chew bones. At the Zoo, we’ll give our animals appropriate toys to play with too, like a floating pool toy for our brown bears or a big plastic ball for our elephants to kick around. Our keepers will also create new experiences for our animals, such as giving the wolves bison hair to roll in. These experiences are designed to both stimulate an animal’s natural behavior and to give them something new to do.

Enrichment from Habitats
Our new Polar Frontier epitomizes the way we design our animals’ homes as places for enrichment and play. Both the polar bear and brown bear habitats have dig pits, dead trees to play with, pools, smell ports, and grassy areas that give the bears the opportunities to be bears – to dig, scratch, smell, and swim. Habitat enrichment can be as simple as providing an animal a choice of shade or sun to nap in and as involved as providing safe places for the animals to dig or make nests.

Enrichment from Interactions
Enrichment from interactions can come from interactions with the same species – we house our gorillas in family groups, just like the ones they would have in the wild. Interactions can come from different species – our bison and pronghorn antelope share a habitat, grazing and interacting with one another, as they would on a wild Kansas plain. Interaction enrichment can even come from people – our keepers train and work with our animals daily, not only for enrichment, but to ensure the animals’ proper care and happiness. Guest interactions also help to enrich our animals – you can’t watch the orangutans watching and mimicking you without realizing how much our guests bring to our animals.

The bottom line - enrichment is a vital part of the care we provide our animals, as we work to create a complex, interesting, and engaging life for them. It’s just a bonus that the animals’ enrichments enrich us as well – as we get to see how incredible our animals truly are. Help our enrichment program - adopt an animal today!

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