Way back when, animal husbandry consisted basically of two tasks: feeding, and scooping poop. An animal keeper of 2007, however, besides performing the duties of nutritionist, vet technician, repairman, landscaper, public speaker, conservationist, and pooper-scooper, has one other very important animal husbandry task– ENRICHMENT.
Animal enrichment is the process by which we allow our captive animals to exhibit their natural behaviors, and keep them both physically and mentally stimulated. We do this by offering them new and interesting choices and environments, varying scents, sights, and sounds, and assorted textures, materials and toys.
Animals in the wild spend the majority of their awake time in survival mode, looking for food, shelter, water, or a mate. They stay busy defending themselves, their young, and their food or territory from other animals. Clearly, captive animals have all these things already taken care of. Our enrichment program is designed to help our animals constructively burn off all the resulting extra energy and time (source: Enrichment 101: A Basic Overview by Diana Guerrero). Like good diet and veterinary care, enrichment helps to keep our animals healthy!
If enrichment were a pie, it would have nine slices: Exhibit Design, Feeding and Foraging, Tactile, Novel Objects or Toys, Visual, Olfactory, Auditory, Training and Handling, and Social. Look for my future blogs that will explain each of these categories, and how we make sure our animals here at the museum get the whole enrichment pie!
All of these pics are our animals interacting with enrichment items.