Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the times when we do not interact with our animals. It is actually a huge amount of time when the animals have to make themselves busy. I mean look at it from this perspective, we come in on our day at work, let’s say 8 in the morning. We do our animal check and see if everybody is still there and if they are still healthy. Then we start cleaning and preparing their diets. Think about it at this point it might be already 930am in the morning. Let’s say we work till 5pm. That means the animals didn’t really do anything from the day before 5pm till 930am. At 930am we are ready to give breakfast to our animals. Hmm.. Ok let’s say within our working day we make sure to do 5 training sessions if we have the luxury to do so. Those training sessions take a maximum of 5 minutes for each individual. After the last animal is being trained (10 animals) we talk about how everything went. So 10 animals x 5 minute is just 50 minutes that times 5 that’s 250 minutes for all animals in total that means 25 minutes for each individual in training time over a day of 24 hours. 25 minutes for each individual in a 24 hour day makes 23 hours and 35 minutes to do enrichment.
Thinking this way and being the coordinator animal training in our zoo I kind of changed my mind about enrichment. Enrichment is a very big and important part of the animal’s life in our care. Training is great and we can reach very high standards for our animals but training is not everything. There is a lot more time than training we have to cover over their day. Especially if we want to cover all natural behaviour the specific species need.
We have been talking about how easy we can make it in our Zoo. We made a very simple schedule what gives the keepers the freedom to do what they want as long as it fits in the given category. For example if we say hunting as category they need to think about a way to enrich the animals to trigger their hunting. The same for swimming, cooperation, cognitive and so on. For us it is important that it is very easy for the keepers to prepare and make enrichment for our animals. With having many of these ideas and talking with many different people I got in contact with an organisation that is called Hose2Habitat.
Hose2Habitat’s mission is to help animal care professionals improve the physical and psychological well-being of wild animals in human care with enrichment and other items made primarily from materials diverted from the waste stream. In less than three years, the non-profit has formed partnerships with Owens Corning and the U.S. Forest Service and grown from a regional non-profit to an international force for good. Hose2Habitat’s most central partnerships are those it forms with zoos and zookeepers where they collaborate to create innovative general enrichment as well as items for veterinary and training purposes. – Lisa M. Daly, Executive Director
Beside the fact that Hose2Habitat is a great initiative they are also aware of the state of the earth. With their donated fire hoses they recycle a huge amount of material what otherwise would be dumped who knows where.
We sat down and had a Skype talk together for a first introduction to each other. We talked about various ideas that could help zookeepers applying more enrichment devices. The funny part was we were on the same page in many different thoughts.
Enrichment gives animal mental and physical challenges over the time we do not physically interact with them. Even though Enrichment is an important cause we can’t just add enrichment in any exhibit. What we have to think of is the needs the animals need. For example, we add foraging enrichment for animals who need to forage. We make them forage for 10 hours at a time. Did we ever ask ourselves if they forage for 10 hours? Maybe they actually just forage 8 hours a day and the other 16 are filled with play, cooperation, social and rest. What means that we forget some behaviours the animal needs beside foraging.
With guest workshop leader Luke Siberry, they built an animal out of firehose that was used in carnivore exhibits where the animals started to show different behaviours than they would able to get otherwise.