Enrichment

Enrichment is used to improve the psychological state of an animal in captivity through providing an environment that promotes and stimulates innate behaviours.  If an animal is left in captivity without any form of enrichment it can become restless or bored and develop unnatural behaviours.

In order to implement proper enrichment it is important to research the animal´s natural behaviours and tendencies as well as their typical environment prior to administering any form of enrichment.

There are four basic types of behavioural enrichment that are used to achieve happy and healthy animals in captivity:

  • Environmental/Physical
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This type of enrichment focuses on enhancing the animal’s environment to mimic the habitat type it would prefer in the wild. This can be by placing natural or artificial items such as plants, manmade toys, swings, dens or caves, or even places to relax. The more natural and interesting the animal’s environment is, the more opportunity the animal will have to exhibit normal environmental behaviours while exploring their captive home. These behaviours can include climbing, basking, hiding, etc.  All of these permit the animal to use their muscles and stay active.

 

  • Sensory
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This enrichment promotes the use of one or more of the five senses (visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory and taste) and stimulates exploratory behaviors. For example, visual stimulus allows the animal to display their body signals and facial expressions through the use of images, lights, mirrors, etc. Auditory stimuli can include introducing vocalizations that are often present in the daily life of wild animals into the lives of animals in captivity through the use of recordings. These recordings are often of other animals, animals of the same species, or nature sounds, and are used to stimulate certain behaviors.
  • Nutritional
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This type of enrichment allows animals to have a certain amount of control over their environment, in addition to promoting cognitive responses and behaviors by introducing new stimulants into their environment. Furthermore, nutritional enrichment allows animals to work for their food similar to the way it would be done in their natural environment.This type of enrichment consists of changing food presentation and location, offering new ingredients and changing feeding schedules or frequency. 

 

  • Cognitive
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This type of enrichment focuses on problem solving related to food, social interactions, and anthropomorphic behaviours.  Games or challenges can be created within enclosures of social and asocial animals. One example of a puzzle could be to hide a food source inside of a log, box, etc. This will engage the animal in a problem solving scenario. If this is done among a group of social beings it can also improve social interaction, which is an important survival skill for these highly social beings.
Another form of cognitive enrichment is training an animal to exhibit wild behaviours. This not only promotes innate actions but also prohibits unnatural ones. If an animal is being trained it not only exercises their brain but it provides the ability to respond appropriately to positive reinforcement, something all animals learn to do in the wild at a young age. For example, a jaguar can be trained to scent roll onto objects with foreign smells by receiving a treat each time the correct behaviour is exhibited. Over time, the animal will expect a reward for completing the appropriate behaviour desired. This is not only healthy for the exhibition of innate behaviours but also keeps the animal busy and entertained, which is effective for depression prevention.
5 Freedoms

An animal’s well-being is determined by its physical and mental state. The five freedoms are guidelines for proper care of animals in captivity to ensure they’re at an optimum level of physical and mental health.

    • Freedom from hunger and thirst
Ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigour:
– The food should be appropriate according to the natural diet of the animal
– The food should be administered in a way that mimics natural feeding behaviours
– The feeding methods should be safe for staff and animal
– The food and water supplies should be prepared and kept hygienically
– Feeding by visitors shouldn’t be permitted
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    • Freedom from discomfort
An appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area:
– All aspects of environment at appropriate levels according to the animal’s natural environment (noise, temperature, light, ventilation, etc.)
– The enclosure should provide sufficient shelter and space
– The enclosure should be cleaned adequately and daily
– The enclosure should be maintenanced frequently and kept safe
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    • Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
Prevention with rapid diagnosis and treatment:
– Daily observations should be made on behaviour and reported when necessary
– Animals should be given immediate and proper care when necessary
– Enclosures should be set up as to avoid interspecies and intraspecies conflict
– Capture and restraint facilities should be kept updated and safe
– The on-site veterinary facilities/medicine should be kept clean and adequate for care
– Quarantine areas or enclosures should be kept readily available
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    • Freedom to express normal behaviour
Providing efficient space, proper facilities, and company of the animal’s own kind:
– The enclosure should meet biological/behavioural needs of animal
– Appropriate animal enrichment should be incorporated frequently
– The enclosure should be adequate to contain the animal
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    • Freedom from fear and distress
Ensuring conditions and treatment which ensure mental recovery:
– Animals should only be handled by qualified caretakers
– Contact between animals and public should be avoided for animal’s welfare
– Interactions with the animals should be monitored for stress levels
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“Physiological and physical health issues are closely related because if an animal is aware of a physical problem it can develop into a physiological issue as well.”
5 Freedoms

Without proper animal care and enrichment a variety and/or combination of health issues can arise. The main indicators of poor animal welfare are:

  • Reduced longevity (lifespan), reduced ability to grow
  • Injury, disease/immunosuppression or self-mutilation present
  • Suppression of normal behavioural patterns/Performance of abnormal behavioural patterns
  • Reduced ability to breed
  • Use of physiological coping mechanisms
  • Excessive sleeping, lack of typical mobility
  • Normal physiological/physical development inhibited
  • Impairment of cognitive functions
  • Aggression towards humans and other animals
  • Ignoring food/ excessive-eating
  • Pacing
  • Obsessive grooming/ no grooming
  • Lethargic, apathetic

There should be differences in enrichment practices for animals expected to be in captivity for their lifetime (residents), and rehabilitating animals prior to being re-released in the wild.

If an individual is expected to be released back into the wild it should have minimal human contact beyond feedings, cleanings, and quick enrichment implementation. The rehabilitating animal should not be given any foreign objects or food that they would not normally come across in their natural habitat. If an animal loses its innate fear of people and/or foreign objects it becomes at risk of remaining in or being drawn to human-populated environments. This is because over-exposure to humans, foreign manmade objects, and unfamiliar foods can cause the rehabilitated animal to become tamer towards humans.This can increase the possibility of death or starvation in the wild if the animal becomes dependent or familiar to people, places, or things.
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Animals in captivity for their lifetime will always be dependent on humans for survival, they will always interact with them. Because these animals are unfit to be released back into the wild (due to mental/ physical injuries or socialization) they can be exposed to more unnatural environments and devices while under the care of professionals.
Learn more about Captive Animals Enrichment

What we do!

Discover the enrichment toys we provide to our animals


Bibliography:    – “Animal Enrichment.” National Zoo. Smithsonian. N.d. Web. 17 May 2016. Available in: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI/AnimalEnrichment/    – Hagedorn, Jamie. “Environmental Enrichment at Safe Haven. ” PerkyPenguins.com. 2014. Web. 17 May 2016. Available in: http://www.safehavenwildlife.com/Enrichment%20Program/enrichment.html