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How Can We Engage Our Animals in the Zoo? I.

Rhesus-monkey (Macaca mulatta) with a pumpkin as enrichment item (photo: Damson)Animals in the wild need to find food, water, need to check their territory or escape from predators, therefore they spend a lot of their time actively. However, animals in zoos get food and water from the keepers, in most cases they share their enclosure with conspecifics, and as there are no predators to threaten them, they spend much less time actively. Therefore, the staff of zoos need to provide items that encourage animals to be active. Environmental enrichment is essential to preserve the mental health and natural behaviour of captive animals. I collected a few ideas on how we can enrich the environment of zoo animals.

1.    As carnivorous animals get prepared meat in zoos, they cannot practice hunting for prey. Both captive and wild predators spend a lot of time resting if they are satisfied. African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in Dudley Zoo, UK, receive an artificial zebra and they present how this predator can hunt in a flock in the wild.

2.    One of the easiest animals to entertain are monkeys. They are curious, active most of the day, skilful and intelligent. As every animal, squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) in Philadelphia Zoo are interested by any enrichment item in which any food is hidden, but they are also interested in any new objects keepers place in their enclosure.

3.    Elephants are highly intelligent animals, and as for monkeys, it is specially important to provide many enrichment items that can engage the animals. Furthermore, elephants are the greatest terrestrial mammals so they need very strong and resistant objects as enrichment, such as the ones in Heidelberg Zoo, Germany.

4.    You probably would not think that reptiles can also be entertained. Take a plastic pipe, drill some holes in it, put insects inside, and place it into the enclosure of a Bengal monitor (Varanus bengalensis) – as keepers in Sacramento Zoo do. The monitor will be very curious about the insects that wriggle out of the pipe.

5.    It is not always necessary to present food items as an enrichment. Red deer (Cervus elaphus) fight each other during the rutting period, therefore it is a risk to keep more males together in zoos because they might harm any rival. A male deer in Tbilisi Zoo, Georgia, can let off steam by fighting a hung up branch.

6.    Parrots are similarly curious animals among birds as monkeys among mammals. Keas (Nestor notabilis) are a particularly intelligent species. It is not necessary to provide any food for enrichment, they can be entertained with colourful plastic balls for a long time.

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