What is Animal Enrichment?
Animal enrichment can be anything that encourages animals to exhibit their natural behaviors in order to enhance overall well-being. Depending on the species, some of these natural behaviors include foraging, problem solving, hunting and playing!
Why is it important?
Unlike animals in the wild, animals at the Akron Zoo do not need to find their own food or protect themselves from predators. Instead, they have awesome dedicated staff that provides them a balanced diet and regular medical care! But their mental and physical abilities still need to be challenged. That is where enrichment comes in. Animal care staff is constantly thinking of new ways to engage the animals and encourage them to exhibit species-appropriate behaviors.
How can you help?
As you may expect, enrichment items don’t last very long! Our animals are very strong and very adept at figuring out (and often destroying) their favorite items. For a list of items we are always looking for, please visit the following websites for our wish lists:
We also utilize many items that are either commonly recycled or that can be purchased at local craft or grocery stores.
Here is a list of current items we are in need of. Please contact Stephanie Miner at (330) 375-2550 ext 7280 or at firstname.lastname@example.org before bringing any of these items for donation.
- Brown paper bags (lunch or grocery sized)
- Pillow cases and towels (no snags, rips, or holes)
- PVC (schedule 40 or 80) – pipes, caps, elbows, etc of any size
- Cleaned out, empty plastic kitty litter buckets
- Kiddie pools/wading pools – earth-tone colors a plus!
- Little Tykes plastic items (waffle blocks, toys, etc)
- Washable tempera paint
- Paint brushes (all sizes)
- Dixie cups
- Construction paper
- Packaging paper/butcher paper
How is enrichment provided at the Akron Zoo?
During your visit to the Akron Zoo, you may be able to spot a few items in exhibits that can easily be identified as “enrichment.” Think of the hard plastic toys the grizzly bears love to play with in their pool, or the barrel that is a favorite of our male lion! But there are many other enriching opportunities in each exhibit that are not easily noticed. Logs may be moved or changed, food items (including fruits, veggies, bugs and nuts) may be scattered in the tall grass or even snow and perfumes or spices may be sprayed/sprinkled throughout the exhibit. Also, our exhibits are designed to be inherently enriching. Whether it is the glass-fronted exhibit or the proximity to another exhibit, our animals are enriched by the world around them every day. For this reason, many of the obvious enrichment items are often not seen on exhibit, as they are saved and given to our animals in their off-exhibit spaces. Below you can learn about the different categories of enrichment that are provided to the animals at the Akron Zoo in order to encourage a variety of natural behaviors.
This type of enrichment is designed to “occupy” an animal’s time, and many items can easily fall into the category of “toy.” We provide various sizes and shapes of hard plastic toys on the ground, hanging and in the water for the animals to interact and “play” with.
This type of enrichment includes rearranging and changing up the layout and substrates of the exhibits. Logs or rocks may be added or moved, perching options may be moved so birds and primates experience a different perspective while moving around or sitting. Have you ever noticed the vertical tree branches in different locations throughout the grizzly bear exhibit? There are actually sunken PVC tubes permanently placed in multiple locations throughout the exhibit. This allows animal care staff to replace trees/branches as new pieces become available without needing to purchase and replant trees every couple of weeks! Since there are multiple locations, staff can also choose which location to use, or leave empty to add additional variety. Also, the “tree” in the center of the jaguar exhibit and the “rock” in the middle of the snow leopard exhibit are both heated! During the winter, you will frequently see animals in these exhibits hanging out on these.
This type of enrichment aims to stimulate the senses of the animals. Olfactory enrichment can include perfume and spices as well as synthetic animal scents. Visual enrichment can include brightly colored enrichment items or the opportunity to watch a movie when not on exhibit! Auditory enrichment can include a variety of nature sounds, either native to their area or unknown, or even some music from the radio. Tactile enrichment can include ice and snow, or a mat to stand or lay on that has a different texture. A variety of tastes can also be provided and will be described more in the novel food category.
Novel Food/Diet Presentation
This type of enrichment not only provides novel tastes (and smells) with food items not commonly included in an animal’s diet (after being approved by a veterinarian), it also includes the presentation of the food item itself. Instead of cutting an apple into small squares, it may be given whole or in larger slices. Food items may also be hidden in boxes, tubes or toys that require an animal to manipulate or problem solve to remove the food items. On hot days we may even provide some extra treats in ice blocks!
This type of enrichment aims to provide species-appropriate social opportunities for the animals at the Akron Zoo. Some species are primarily solitary in the wild, some live in pairs or small groups and other tend to live in larger groups. Some of these experiences are easier to simulate than others. Some of our buildings (snow leopard and jaguar, lion and tiger) house multiple animals that can hear, smell and sometimes see one another (but not interact directly), thereby providing safe social opportunities. Native sounds and mirrors can also be provided in off exhibit areas to simulate a larger group setting and often times encourages natural vocalizations and displays.
This type of enrichment often includes training sessions and public interaction through the exhibit glass! Have you ever “played” with the penguins by running back and forth at the exhibit, or had the female lion paw at you through the glass? How about letting a grizzly bear or otter “sniff” and “chase” your hand or a stuffed animal through the glass? Then you have helped to enrich our animals! Training sessions conducted by our animal care staff offer physical and mental challenges for the animal being trained. The animal must pay attention to what the trainer is asking, and if they provide the correct response they get a treat!