What is Enrichment?
Animals in nature have to work for a living – to find food, to make nests, and to find shelter. Play is another natural activity. Life for the animals at the Houston Zoo is more predictable than in the wild. That’s why our keepers use enrichment to create variety through work and play. Keepers at the Houston Zoo create an environment for our animals that allows for physical and mental choices and challenges.
At the Houston Zoo, we choose items and activities that are safe and encourage natural behaviors. For example, orangutans in the wild make nests each time they stop to go to sleep at night. At the Houston Zoo, we give our orangutans cut branches of hackberry, mulberry, banana leaves, willow, hay or bamboo to make nests. Keepers also give them “toys” such as large indestructible balls and rubber tubes, crates and colorful fabric.
Hiding food encourages natural foraging behavior. During Enrichment Day, our Mandrills will receive forage piles – yummy treats covered in substrate that they must dig through. Lemurs and Guenons enjoy puzzle feeders. Keepers drill holes in PVC pipes and then fill the tubes with some of the primates’ favorite treats. It takes more than a quick lick to get to the goodies inside!
Exercise is also a form of enrichment. You may take your dog for a long walk or play tug of war with an old sock. Keepers at the Houston Zoo encourage physical activity in a variety of ways. For instance, Malayan tigers Pandu and Satu enjoy tugging on a large plastic barrel attached to a cord. Jaguars, Kan Balam and Cocoy, will sometimes receive their bones in barrels. They manipulate the slots in the barrel to get to the yummy treats inside.