Our dedicated staff of keepers at the Houston Zoo work tirelessly to provide novel and interesting enrichment items for our numerous animal residents. Many people are aware that enrichment helps stimulate natural behaviors, promote physical and mental well-being as well as giving our guests the opportunity to see how amazing the animals truly are. Enrichment for our animals must also be safe, and depending on the animal may also be a bit unruly or cumbersome. An excellent example of this is Tucker, a juvenile bull Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) playing with a very large log.
Now this item brought hours of enjoyment to Tucker and our other elephants at the Houston Zoo. However, at a certain point it is time for these items to be retired. Sometimes our animals will play with an item until it is no longer safe, or until it becomes boring. At this time, it’s best to dispose of the item and find something else… or is it?
Here we have our Lions (Panthera leo) getting the opportunity to play with the very same log. Of course, a log built for an elephant can be a bit too large for a lion, so our staff have cut these sections of log to be a more appropriate size. These logs still weigh quite a bit (two animal keepers were needed to move them into the yard), but our lionesses were able to move them around with ease. In fact, they were able to throw them around without much exertion.
This time of enrichment is immensely rewarding. Not only do our lions get new toys, but they also have a very interesting smell thanks to living with our elephants for so long. We’re also recycling our enrichment items and reducing our environmental impact. While the log was no longer appropriate for our elephants, with a few modifications it becomes a wonderful new source of enrichment for our large carnivores!