I always find it very interesting to see what it is that make people behave the way they do.

By which I mean, there has to be a reason, something that reinforces them to do what they do. Some people are amazing at keeping themselves busy. Some people are less so and need other people to keep themselves occupied. We all have that one friend who likes to drink a glass of wine together on a rainy Thursday evening.

Octopus made from garden hose, buoy and other material.

I have worked at various zoological facilities around the world and it is great to see the creativity people have to occupy themselves with. People keep themselves busy with the craziest hobbies, but how does this work in the animal kingdom? Specifically, animals in human care who are not busy foraging all day long.

Throughout my career in animal training, working predominately with marine mammals, I’ve seen some amazing and crazy enrichment ideas from the keepers and trainers; to make the animals day more interesting. I personally think it’s an art form to be able to successfully have the animals to engage with the various objects one tries to challenge them with. At Kolmårdens Djurpark we have a wide range of creative trainers on our team and a great area for us to create new and exciting enrichments.

“Our main goal is to create enrichment that isn’t focused around food.”

We believe that you can have enrichment in the exhibits for a week or so without it losing its appeal. We believe that it is important you give the animals the choice to interact with the device or not. Believe it or not, it works very well, as long as we are creative enough to change the device in such a way that keeps it interesting for the animal again and again. But the question we are always asking ourselves is, ‘How?’ The last thing we want is to have to throw devices away because the animals do not show any interest anymore.

We ask this ‘How?’ question to ourselves and other trainers on the team. Let’s compare this to what we as humans do; if a device keeps changing but it stays fundamentally the same, the individual can stay engaged with it for quite a while. For example, I used to be a breakdancer and through practice and thinking of new movements, breakdancing stayed extremely enriching for me to continue. I could spend hours practicing the same moves, sometimes even for weeks with just a small change here and there. As trainers we want to reflect this idea to the animals we work with.

So how can we reflect this towards them? For myself, I discovered that if I practiced certain dance moves that connect to each other in a way, I can keep going with sequences because they fit together like puzzles pieces. Puzzle pieces can change all the time, as long as they connect to each other the same way, just like my dance moves.

The zoo I work at tries to keep their exhibits as natural as possible, so we as keepers and trainers have to adopt these rules for enrichment and exhibits changes. This gives us a challenge to become more creative. We work with marine mammals in our department, so we decided like many other collections, to play around with algae.

We thought about carwash material, fire hoses, water hoses, buoys, trees and so on, just to see what we can make. So as our project started, our main goal was to make it natural and create puzzle pieces so we would be able to change the shape at all times.

This was a very difficult goal, but it is a great way for our trainers to become more creative, and for the animals to be more stimulated. The most unique and innovative ideas come from our trainers. With buoys, hoses, carwash material, dive bottles, rocks and a lot of ropes and hooks we were trying to make a movable, underwater, kelp forest.

Recently we decided to get our system up to another level. One of our trainers who is incredibly creative and good with material built a new type of algae. This time it was grass, his vision is to look at the animals natural environment and try to recreate what they have. This way it will be easier to enact behaviours that are naturally seen with the dolphins elsewhere. The behavioural diversity goes up and the animals start to observe each other. So how did Adrian do it?

We installed trees with rings underwater, where we are able to attach other devices. This is a lot of fun for the trainers and hopefully the animals. It’s all about peoples perspective and it appears this way of working enriches the trainers in such a way, that we are constantly thinking about unusual, fun and silly ideas, that we can create for our animals to help make their life more interesting.

To come back to the puzzle pieces, our trainers are starting to think of a different ways they can attach different pieces together, so we can make it more interesting for our animals. Also thinking of how can we challenge their exhibits and constantly change the environments without having to throw the devices away. It’s a great way of working and to be honest, I get more enjoyment seeing the trainers become so excited and motivated to come up with new ideas!

The enrichment programme Kolmården’s Wildlife Park developed is based on the natural behaviour of the animals. We build for the animals needs and not for the joy of the keepers. For us, this is an important part in our programme where we can focus on the behavioural diversity the animal needs to ensure their welfare is set at the highest standard. Kolmården Wildlife Park sees a difference in their animals and they continually try to keep developing new and exciting ways to enrich their animals.

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Peter is a passionate Animal Consultant that beside teaching you about Operant Conditioning makes sure you will go home motivated and inspired. Make sure you read his Bio!


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