Behavioral enrichment

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1994:

Preventing captive animals from
suffering terminal boredom has been a prima-
ry concern of zookeepers since ancient times.
Excessively bored animals not only become
listless and uninteresting to crowds, but also
develop self-destructive behavior. For cen-
turies––after tossing prisoners to ferocious
beasts fell out of vogue––the antidote was
obliging animals to earn their food by per-
forming.

That approach too has fallen from
favor, as zoos have moved toward naturalis-
tic exhibits in an emphasis upon showing ani-
mals acting as they would in the wild. But
even the best naturalistic settings are too
small to offer intelligent species much variety
in stimulus. Thus behavioral enrichment pro-
grams are again borrowing from the past.
Since 1991, Los Angeles zoo volunteers have
been making animals earn their meals again:
primates must find whole fruit and oatmeal
hidden beneath hay and in nooks and crannies
of their quarters, polar bears must extricate
fish from floating blocks of ice, and hippos
forage for greenery dumped into their wading
pond, instead of being piled at the side. At
the Toledo Zoo meanwhile, head veterinarian
Timothy Reichard notes improved health and
behavior in animals who have been taught to
do various tricks to facilitate frequent physi-
cal examinations. The training program, now
two years old, seems to stimulate the animals’
interest in their surroundings. Reichard’s
staff began by training great apes, including
chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas; went
to monkeys when that succeeded; and have
since progressed to training elephants, bears,
sea lions, red pandas, a zebra, and a giraffe.
About 40 other zoos have requested details of
the Toledo Zoo techniques.
The Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle
plans to open a $7.7 million “Northern Trail”
exhibit this fall that will combine the natural-
istic and behavioral enrichment approaches.
The plans call for mountain goats to lick
water from rocks moistened by hidden pipes,
while bears are to fish live salmon from an
artificial stream and harvest salmonberries
from bushes cultivated in their cages. The
latter idea may prove problematic; attempts
at including actual fruit-and-flower-producing
shrubbery in naturalistic exhibits elsewhere
have historically failed because zoo animals
tend to destroy the plants out of boredom.
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