Enrichment in the life of our animals.
Im from a family with 6 that’s parents included. When I was younger my mom provided us a lof of toys to play with. My most favourite was Playmobile and Lego, who doesn’t know these two. My brother and me made full villages, train tracks and you name it all with Lego, we had the best times. Than playmobile came with this huge crane and I had to have it so trying to safe as much money as I could the day came when I was able to get it. I played for hours with this crane. This was our sweet side… you know how kids can be. The other side of us wanted to have guns and play war and chase eachother but my mom didn’t allow us to have plastic guns in the house, I understand why at this point in my life but back then I could throw fights for these things and today I really do not know why. Anyway we had our favourite toys but Lego and Playmobile that was it because your imagination could go full in. It was kind of creative enrichment I have to say.
We people are curious from the moment we are born, we could even say that this is part of our instinct. Curious about everything and some of us bring this to a whole new level. What we learn on the way is what we become. The love for money so we can buy anything is nog because its our instinct. When we are born we are curious. We want to see, feel and touch everything. We put everything in our mouth and we do not care about a thing till we discover negative results from trying. We learn from it and we keep going. If we do it right we will have intelligent kids or we have kids who are afraid of everything. I heard this story from a dad who made sure that when he raised his kid to give his kid thought through tasks with the toys he gave him. When you are conscious of what you give to your kids and there is a reason behind it apparently you can shape the intelligence, I mean this dads kid had a very high IQ test after. It’s a story I heard but it definitely could be true.
I want to introduce 2 animals to you guys I was blessed to work with. These 2 have very curious, interactive and creative personalities what you can see in their day to day training sessions.
Here we have Maji:
Maji is a South African Fur Seal, a very calm relax animal who doesn’t care about anything. But this wasn’t like that before. As trainers we gave him many scenarios where he had to solve choices for himself. He decided what he enjoys and what he preferred not to have. We gave him the choices all the time to interact with new devices that would reinforce his curious behaviour at all times. This strategy of enrichment has such a strong impact on his personality that he became very relax. What helps us a lot in especially medical behaviours.
Then we have Peach:
Peach is a bottlenose dolphin and born in the summer of 2015. She is very playful, curious and beautiful individual that loves learning. As mentioned in this blog: https://zoospensefull.com/2015/11/25/thoughts-for-behaviour-what-is-there-to-do-now/ At our Dolphinarium we have a great enrichment program. The enrichment program is very tight and build by very creative trainers. The result is a dolphin that is just over 1-year-old that doesn’t care about any new object because of her curiousness. We get her used to enrichment where she has the choice to play with it or where she has to use her natural specie behaviour such as echolocation.
Almost every Zoo in the world has an enrichment plan for their animals. I think we can all agree that enrichment is important for our animals we have in our care. But I’m sometimes wondering do we really enrich the animals for what they need? Do the enrichment devices we provide the animals actually connect to their natural behaviour we see in nature when we observe them?
Enrichment is not just enrichment, we actually have to know our species that we work with to a point where we have a better understand of their natural specie behaviour. What connects to the best enrichment we can give them to stimulate this behaviour we observed. Strolling through the internet and looking for ideas, many different devices and ideas pop up. Sometimes very anthropomorphistic to be honest. I mean humans like to put unexplained or unanswered questions in emotional boxes. Just because we always want to have answers on everything. This even reflects to the enrichment we give our animals. I mean many times I hear or see look how nice the animals can play. Ok, to be fair enough yes they can play but did we think properly about the enrichment we provided? Although its not easy, it is an important task from the care takers.
But I like to think a bit further. Animals who are grazers or browsers are easier to enrich as animals that do not consume much food a day. But is that true? The challenges are very different, making enrichment to give the animals the change to have a choice and help them to do other behaviours then eating is very challenging. Animals who don’t do this are easier challenged with such enrichment ideas. Some animals are more curious then others but I believe that like us humans they are born with a degree of curiousness. How simple is it to enrich a natural curious animal? Or put it this way how challenging is it to enrich animals who are scared by nature?
Photo Credit: William Walldèn
Ok, so let’s say we know the animals very well we know their natural behaviour. We start making a device. What would you do? “go for a food dispenser or something else?” To be honest a lot of us go for the food dispensers because its easy due to the fact that the animal will interact with it. But if its enrichment it might be a different question. I mean it just takes a bit longer for them to finish their food but that’s really it, isn’t it? Some of you might disagree with me. If devices are made for cognition or other type of intelligent orsocial behaviours and so on it’s a lot harder for us to find ways to make the animals curious to use such a device
At Kolmårdens djurpark we have a couple rules and one strong rule is that the devices has to look natural other wise we can’t use them.
We really have to look into specie specific behaviour they have in the wild and how we can get those behaviours in our care. We give mud pools to our small pigs, we give sand hills to various hoof stock animals and so on. We make sure that our social animals get enrichment what gives them the social behaviours they need.
Now what about choices? The funny part was that I was writing this blog I didn’t have an exact example to show you. The next day Im at the Elephant stable with the trainers there who are becoming better day by day. They growth is just great to see. While we look at the elephants we made the morning plan. We house 5 elephants, with 3 of them we started a hose play session. Making them wet is important for their skin care and their overall health. We can provide this in various ways but this morning we did it by rinsing them in their free time. We started with a warm water hose and within 10 minutes we got them all interacting with the warm water. Not to forget that its freezing in Sweden so I guess they enjoyed that warmth. The second trainer came in with a cold water hose and one of the animals went right away to the trainer with the cold water. Another animal followed. Its interesting to see what choices the animals make completely against our thoughts and what we think is logic. What is logic for us might not be completely different for such intelligent animals as elephants.
I don’t know if you ever heard about habituation?
Habituation means that the objects in the exhibit become part of the environment, very easy explained. This is the theory and many trainers will say that this is not good. Let’s face it, when we add a brush pole in an exhibit for particular animals we basically give them a choice of using this device. We can say that if we keep it in their environment for a long time the animal will not use it anymore because it got habituated. A agree to some extend but at the other hand my opinion is that we just give this animal the choice to use this device all the time. Its up to them when they want to use it or when they want the satisfaction of a good scratch. (Photo: Enrichment Brush at a farm in Colorado, USA)
Making enrichment is not just throwing a bal in an exhibit and see them play. We have to start thinking about behaviours we would like to see from the species we take care of. At Kolmårdens Djurpark we are very busy with finding the best system what works for the keepers as well as for the animals. So we can enrich the animals with changes where they are able to use their potential instinct behaviour or learned natural behaviour. We try to think about cognition, social and various other catagories to challenge out animals the best way possible. Sounds complicated?
Did you ever think about digging a deep hole in the wild boar exhibit? Adding logs and taking logs away in the big cat exhibit? Adding mud baths for the rhinos? Use huge branches to change the directions animals walk? Enrichment can be very easy, without thinking about food dispensers enrichment can just be all of that what is mentioned above. Its up to use to educate our selfs with what we need to know to give the best care for the animals.
Through a strong enrichment program you can get animals more curious, what reflects in the choices they make to interact with one another and the devices. It goes even this far that when an enrichment program is strong your desensitisation is super easy in your training sessions. Keep on thinking outside the box and keep on challenging the animals with devices that brings out the most natural behaviour from the species you work with. Try non food dispensers and be creative!!