EnrichBits: A monthly look at animal enrichment
We’ve talked about Exhibit Design and Feeding and Foraging as two categories of a good animal enrichment program. Another important way we keep our animals challenged is by providing them with different textures and sensations. Big or small, warm or cool, soft or hard, bumpy or smooth, round or square– these are all different textures that we use for diets, toys, or exhibit “furniture”. By using different things like burlap bags, piles of bark, feathers, hay, ice cubes, cardboard, grass mats, and shredded paper, we provide our animals with TACTILE ENRICHMENT.
Tactile enrichment can often provoke some kind of activity. Our opossums love to rub their necks and faces on cardboard boxes, while the bears will tear the boxes to little scraps. Ferrets seem to like to dig through piles of small rocks, and chickens will spend quite a bit of time pecking and scraping at a pile of mulch.
You can read about Templeton and our goats in the farmyard in Marilyn’s recent post, who like to rub against scrub brushes and keepers’ keys. But animals don’t always have to “like” an item for it to be good enrichment. When we cook the bears’ sweet potatoes, they get mushy (and have a different taste and smell), and the bears will often snub them (at least at first). The important thing is that by giving them this different texture, the bears had an interesting and different experience, and got to make a choice.
We have to use care to make sure each tactile enrichment item is appropriate for the animal. While we give piles of sandbox sand to our wolves for them to dig through, we wouldn’t want to use the same for our snakes, who could ingest it. Rope is a great textured item to use for for our owls and hawk, but we have to be careful it is cut in short enough lengths or tied securely around perches so legs or necks can’t get tangled up.
Here are some pictures of our animals interacting with tactile enrichment.
One of our ringtail lemurs checking out a pile of ice this summer