Building a Bright Future

STEM students share the importance of building enrichment for animals


At the end of the 2021-2022 school year, fifth graders from the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM School completed a project to design enrichment for several species at the Akron Zoo. These students came up with ideas, created designs and submitted final reports to the Akron Zoo's animal care team for approval. Below you can read some firsthand accounts from these students about the process of building enrichment.

Visit the zoo on May 25 to see our animals enjoying their brand new enrichment built by the STEM Students!

By Galapagos Tortoise Group 2: Connor, Sydney, Khawla, Roman and Joseph

People visit the zoo every day. Have you ever noticed the strange container the animals pry open to get food? That’s called enrichment. Let’s take a look at what enrichment actually is and what it means for animals.Group 2

Enrichment is a learning tool that helps them in many ways. It’s also an enhancer that encourages natural behaviors. It could also be used to challenge the animals. The enrichments are for the animals at the zoo, such as the river otter. They are also to help them sustain natural behaviors. Enrichments help the animals by enhancing natural behaviors such as swimming. They help to keep them healthy and active as well.

The first step in designing an enrichment is doing research. Natural behaviors, natural habitats, diet and personality are some things you could research. The next step is to brainstorm ideas for enrichment. You should consider your constraints and the size of the enrichment. Then you design your idea on a blueprint. The design should include labels and measurements. Finally, a prototype must be built. A prototype has to be built so you can model off it and so that it can be tested.

Animals need different enrichments because they have different personalities, natural behaviors, and natural habitats. They receive enrichment when they need to enhance natural behaviors, when they’ve mastered old enrichment or when they fall ill and they get special enrichment to help them recover.

In summary, enrichment is not only important for humans, but for animals as well. Animals need enrichment for all the same reasons we do: they need to stay healthy, have something to keep them active and occupied and so they can strengthen skills, like that walker you had when you were a baby. 

By Galapagos Tortoise Group 3: McKinley, Bryahna, Tyler, Janiya and Alexander

Have you ever been to the Akron Zoo? If you have, do you remember seeing a bear with its head inside a box, or a big plastic water jug in the gibbon habitat? Well, this is their enrichment. Enrichment is a toy or activity that helps the animal strengthen or find new natural behaviors.Group 3

The enrichment at the zoo is meant to help the animals who need extra support to strengthen their physical attributes and improve their mental health. Some natural behaviors that enrichment might focus on are improving their ability to hang onto branches, walk, fly, swim, climb and their five senses.

The process for designing enrichment for an animal is to first gather information about the animal you are going to design enrichment for and learn about their natural behaviors, natural habitat, personality and who their predators are. If you have enrichment that looks like one of their predators, they will most likely not play with or use your enrichment. Next, you have to brainstorm ideas for the enrichment and double and triple-check to make sure that they are safe for the animal. After that, you should create the blueprint of your design. This may take a few tries.  When you make the blueprint be sure to label the parts and sizes of the enrichment. Finally, you need to create the prototype and test it. If the prototype is not successful, redesign it before moving on to making your final design.

So why do different animals get different enrichments? Well, this is because of their different adaptations or abilities, and their different characteristics. Animals receive enrichment when they have been injured to help them rehabilitate or when they need to be more active with a part of their bodies. Now next time you see a river otter playing with a ball or a lion tearing apart a box, you will know why.

By North American River Otter Group 2: Janam, Ben, Marissa, Noah and Devin

Have you ever wondered what balls or boxes are doing inside zoo habitats? That’s called enrichment. Enrichment is there for many reasons. Enrichment plays an important role when taking care of any animal.Group 2

Enrichment items are toys for animals that keep their mind sharp. Enrichment is for animals of all kinds. Enrichment helps zoos teach them natural behaviors. It also helps them solve problems.

The first step in designing enrichment is doing research or gathering information. After you gather information the next step is to brainstorm ideas. Keep in mind constraints, size, safety and shape. Once you finish that step you move on to designing blueprints. Be sure to include measurements, labels, the drawing, function and materials list. Finally, you must build a prototype so you have a model to look at so you can test it. Also if you need to modify or redesign it.

Different animals get different enrichment because they have different behaviors, adaptations, personalities and habitats. Animals receive enrichment when they need to enhance natural behaviors, when they master a different enrichment and to keep them engaged.

In conclusion, enrichment is beneficial for animals in many ways. It improves their natural behaviors as well as their state of living. Not only that, but enrichment is for everyone - even humans! Without enrichment, zoos would not be the same.

By North American River Otter Group 6: Aneela, Brandon, Dominic and Nai Tala

Have you ever been to the zoo and seen a grizzly bear playing with a hard plastic ball in the water? Well, that's the enrichment grizzlies get, but that's just one example.Group 6

Enrichment is an item that brings out an animal’s or human's natural behavior. Enrichment is for animals at the zoo, or animals who have an injury who cannot be reintroduced into their native habitat because they could get more injured. The enrichments help the animals by bringing out their natural behavior like catching food, swimming, sliding, etc.

The first step in making enrichment is to research what they eat and what they can or can't have. Then comes brainstorming ideas for the enrichment itself. You have to think about safety, personality, what they like and all you researched. Then comes designing a blueprint or “rough draft” of what you (or your group) wants it to look like. Finally comes the prototype, getting the materials you need, making a model of what you want and testing it before you finalize it.

The reason you don't see eagles swimming in their enrichment is that different animals get different enrichment, or as some people might call them, activities or challenges. Typically animals receive enrichments for a reason, like they need a new challenge, when they get bored of their current enrichment or when they master the skill that the enrichment was supposed to teach them. Animals get new enrichment when they’re sick or injured, and when they need to relearn or master a skill they forgot. Have you ever been to the zoo and seen an animal doing something you have never seen before? Maybe that was enrichment. Have you ever had an enrichment like a toy of some sort as a kid? In conclusion, enrichment is a way to help an animal relearn or learn a natural behavior to help engage them in more activity that mimics what they could do in their native habitat.