Animals in the wild have to work for a living to ensure that they can find food and shelter. At the zoo our animals’ daily lives are more predictable than in nature, which is why our zookeepers provide a variety of enriching activities that will challenge the animals physically and mentally. The sea lion keepers are no exception as they provide some of the coolest enrichment activities for our favorite marine mammals here at the zoo.
The lives of our sea lions are constantly being filled with enrichment. Just about everything the sea lions do on a daily basis involves a form of enrichment. Sea lion keeper, Anastasia Kotara, said that the keepers cannot force anything upon the sea lions because they want them to voluntarily choose to play on their own. Due to this, the keepers are constantly shaking things up in terms of enrichment so they can keep the sea lions guessing, remaining curious about their daily schedule. A constant change of schedule sets the sea lions apart from most animal areas at the zoo and a large reason behind this is due to the different personalities and natural behavior of our sea lions; requiring the keepers to remain diligent in preparing activities. Keepers use many of their enrichment tools to encourage the sea lions to work for their food and show off natural instincts. Enrichment devices such as containers, balls, and hoops to swim through all serve a purpose in enriching our sea lions. Typically, fish are put in the containers or in the middle of toy balls where sea lions can work on cognitive skills as well as playing to bring out characteristics they would naturally have in the wild.
Training is a huge part of our sea lions’ lives. Considering that the keepers train them throughout the day, training is a form of enrichment. Every keeper has their own enrichment device that they have chosen to train with, making every training session unique and positive for the sea lions. A sea lion’s level of training solely depends on how long they have been training for. Some of the sea lions, such as Rocky, are new to the style of enrichment that our keepers provide, requiring the keepers to take a different approach. Anastasia said training Rocky is a refreshing experience because he is willing to participate in all enrichment activities. Some of the sea lions can be stubborn and lose interest in an activity if it becomes familiar. The female sea lions have been at the zoo since they were ten months old, requiring a form of training and conditioning that keeps them seeing new and exciting activities. A big part of their change in enrichment is through the sea lion show for the guests. Demonstrations such as having the sea lions distinguish between objects are just one of the many activities our guests can see and the show is constantly switching routines to not only keep the sea lions playful but to keep the guests guessing; enriching the experience for both.
Every year the sea lion keepers have an intern to whom they ask to come up with an enrichment project that will benefit the sea lions and other endeavors in animal enrichment. This is one of the many ways the zoo keeps things fresh for our sea lions. This year Daniel Magid, sea lion intern, came up with a project involving the construction of a fire hose raft for our sea lions. Partnering with the Volunteer Enrichment Committee, Daniel oversaw the completion of the raft which is made up entirely of fire hose material and PVC pipe. No hardware was involved in making the raft which is important for the safety of the sea lions and the salt water environment. The PVC forms the outer rim of the raft while the fire hose material fits together through slits to make up the body of the raft. Daniel said that through the completion of the raft, they realized that there were potential safety hazards for the sea lions so the team went back and added weaving to tighten up the material. The raft is currently entered in a competition known as Hose2Habitat where it will go up against other enrichment building tools made from fire hose and other types of material. The winner receives a fire hose cutter which would be utilized for all the animal departments in the zoo. Regardless of what happens in the competition Daniel and his team are incredibly proud of the raft as it will not only provide the sea lions new and exciting enrichment building but also showcase an idea that others can use as well.
The point of enrichment building is to change up the animal’s environment with the hope of bringing out their natural characteristics. Through the constant creation of fresh ideas provided by our keepers, enrichment building has never been more exciting and successful for our sea lions.