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Animal Care

Animal 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.

At the Houston Zoo, we choose items and activities that are safe and encourage natural behaviors, such as:

  • Giving orangutans branches of plants like mulberry and bamboo to make nests
  • Hiding crickets in a cardboard box for our maned wolves to discover
  • Running treats like chickens down a zip line over the lion exhibit to help our lions run, jump, and reach
  • Giving tasty ostrich eggs to our very appreciative Komodo dragon, Smaug
  • Making ice pops for carnivores and primates out of their favorite foods to help them stay cool on a hot day

Enrichment News (via Facebook)

Hey mongoose you are surrounded by snakes! Do something!!! Well,paper mâché is fun also. The mob spent so much time digging at and tearing up these "reptiles", they never stood a chance. ... See MoreSee Less

11 hours ago

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Belle and Willow, the zoo's resident black bears, are getting plenty of exercise with this barrel. The more it is manipulated, the better chance food will fall out. Hey you two, behave, there is plenty for everyone. Just another of their natural behaviors. ... See MoreSee Less

5 days ago

Presenting diet items as well as novel foods can be done in so many creative ways. The hoof stock keepers made fruit and veggie kabobs for the giant eland to munch on. Enjoy your meal and the skewers too! ... See MoreSee Less

1 week ago

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Claire Jutras, Connor Delaney Smith and 23 others like this

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Tiki KimWonderful! Never seen any of the Hoofstock at my local Zoo get anything like this. ... Sharing to my group Awesome Animal Enrichment

1 week ago   ·  1

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There are many clever ways to enrich zoo animals with Boomer Balls. Holli the gorilla has a ball with a hole in the side. It has been filled with juice and frozen. Looks like she will be busy with her fun treat for some time. Please visit our Houston Zoo Enrichment Wishlist to see what items you could generously purchase to enrich Holli and all our animals. Thank you! ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago

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Karen L. Lindsey, Gracyn Meredith Davis and 23 others like this

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Stacee HawkinsThank you for all you do to keep the animals happy and interested. Love seeing all your cool ideas. It gives me some ideas for my pup!

2 weeks ago   ·  2

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Give a Gift to the Houston Zoo Animals!

Want to help our animals work and play with different enrichment items? Consider purchasing an item off our wish list!

You can also donate these new items in their original, unopened packaging:

  • Perfumes, spices (salt-free), and extracts for scent (olfactory)
  • Animal sound CDs, wind chimes, mirrors, wind socks, and bells for visual and auditory enrichment
  • Items for exhibit enhancements: PVC pipes, caps, and threaded caps of all diameters; carabineers to hang ropes and toys; unpainted wicker baskets; and nylon and natural fiber ropes up to 1’ in diameter
  • Live plants such as bromeliads, monkey grass, bamboo, ginger,
    hibiscus, banana, flowering kale, and mint.
  • We also welcome gift cards from home improvement and pet stores!

Not sure what to give?

Make a monetary gift to support Animal Enrichment! Just $25 could help our elephants chill out with tropical fruit ice pops…..and $100 could help our chimps get artsy with painting supplies! You’ll help keep our animals healthy and happy.

Donate Now

Feeding 6000 Hungry Mouths

© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

The Houston Zoo has more than 6,000 animals to feed every day. The Zoo’s Animal Nutrition staff begin work at 5 a.m. so they can have meals prepared and delivered to the animal sections in time for breakfast. There is a whirlwind of activity in their building including thawing meats, chopping produce, sorting insects, and loading bales of hay and bags of grain.

Each of our animals receives uncompromising excellence in animal care including the best in nutrition. The dietary needs of our animals are almost as varied as the animals themselves. All animal diets are developed in consultation with a specialist in exotic animal nutrition and are regularly analyzed for nutrient composition in order to ensure the optimal health and welfare of our animals. Diet sheets are kept for every animal that outline the type and amount of food needed every day of the week.

The Animal Nutrition building boasts a state of the art kitchen that includes commercial-grade appliances and equipment, 540 square feet of freezer space, three walk-in coolers, 2,000 square feet of dry storage, and a 4,000-square-foot hay barn. Despite all the activity, at the end of every day the kitchen is left clean and sparkling.

Veterinary Care

What’s it like to be a veterinarian at a zoo? Every single day is a different but exciting challenge! The vets and support staff at the Houston Zoo work hard every day to ensure the health of our more than 6,000 animals. This includes:

Preventive care: Animals are examined routinely and given vaccinations for diseases such as West Nile, Rabies, Tetanus, and Distemper. Yes, this also includes fecal examinations to detect parasites before they become a problem!

Quarantine: Before a new animal is allowed into an exhibit, we must be sure it is healthy. All new animals are quarantined and receive a thorough examination.

Wellness physical examinations: Veterinary staff performs routine physicals on Zoo animals, including blood analysis, dental work, TB testing, and bank blood serum or plasma for future needs.

Treatment: When an animal has a medical problem, the vet staff is there to help by providing necessary medical treatment, including diagnostic testing, writing prescriptions, and doing surgery. We also consult with outside specialists when needed to be sure all our animals receive the best care possible.

Rudi the Orangutan Gets His Heart Checked

About the Animal Hospital

The Denton A. Cooley Animal Hospital, built in 1985, is open 365 days a year to serve the animals of the Houston Zoo. Here you’ll find radiology, ultrasound, surgery, laboratory, treatment, examination areas, a diet preparation kitchen, and housing for species ranging from tiny amphibians to antelope!

Meet the Vet: Dr Joe

Dr. Joe Flanagan

Dr. Joe is one of 4 vets at the Zoo and has tended to the health care needs of Houston Zoo animals since 1982. His reptile and amphibian expertise has taken him to the Galapagos Islands, home of the Charles Darwin Scientific Station and Galapagos National Park, where he provided assistance in the health assessment of birds and tortoises. He also donates his time along with the other vet staff (in partnership with the NMFS Galveston Lab Sea Turtle Facility) to help injured sea turtles, removing hooks, rehabilitating them, and releasing them into the Gulf!

American Association of Zoo Keepers

This nonprofit, volunteer organization is made up of professional zoo keepers and other people dedicated to professional animal care and conservation. They are a resource for professional development, enrichment, training, and conservation for zoo keepers and animal care professionals. Follow our Greater Houston Chapter on Facebook to keep updated on important happenings!

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Animal Care