Artemis the cougar enjoys a frozen treat, while her sister checks out the enrichment items in the back.

Artemis, the cougar, enjoys a frozen treat, while her sister, Fawn, checks out the other enrichment items.

Have you ever seen a tiger playing with a large rubber ball? Or one of the spider monkeys foraging for food through straw scattered around their enclosure? Or the rhino flinging a painted box about his pasture with his horn? These are all examples of enrichment that can be given to the animals at the zoo.

Enrichment is any item or activity that provides challenge or stimulation of the senses that allows animals to demonstrate their natural behaviors, gives them choice over their environment, and enhances their well-being. This type of activity is just as important as nutrition and veterinary medicine, and is an integral part of daily life for all our creatures at the Jackson Zoo, from the little Madagascar hissing cockroaches to the Southern White rhinos.

TYPES OF ENRICHMENT

Ongoing studies with other accredited institutions and our own daily routines help zookeepers determine the most beneficial enrichment protocol, used to enhance an animal’s behavioral, physical, social, cognitive, and psychological well-being. 

Environmental Environmental Enrichment Devices (EEDs) are any object that animal can manipulate. They can be natural (browse, branches, hay, flowers) or man-made (car wash roller, boomer balls, tires, puzzle boxes, cardboard boxes).

Habitat Habitat design is a very important consideration for providing stimulating environments. Enclosures provide a variety of substrates, levels, platforms, ropes, nesting/denning areas, and places for hiding other enrichment.

Sensory Every species has specialized sensory adaptations that play a crucial role in their survival in their natural environment, all of which need to be used here at the park. This enrichment is designed to address an animal’s sense of smell, touch, hearing, vision, and taste. Animal care staff may add novel scents (spices, perfumes), pheromones, play sounds, give items of various textures, fabrics that blow in the wind, play videos, show animals mirrors.

 Food Enrichment Rather than just giving an animal a bowl of food every day, animal car staff present food in a variety of ways that will elicit natural hunting or foraging behaviors. Food can be fresh, frozen, soft, hard, diced up or left whole and may be incorporated into puzzle boxes, hidden/scattered throughout the enclosure, or buried in substrate.

Social Grouping Species are grouped here at the zoo in ways that resemble grouping in the wild, as well as Mississippi terrain allows. Some animals are solitary (such as tigers and rhinos), while others may need multi-generational groupings. Some enclosures may also have multiple species living together, such as our African Savannah. This long, open air exhibit is home to the sable antelopes, ostriches, spur-winged geese, klipspringers, and a marabou stork.

Behavioral Conditioning Many species of animals take part in “positive reinforcement operant conditioning.” These training sessions provide cognitive stimulation that increases the intellectual focus of an animal, plus it’s very handy for daily husbandry (like animals shifting from indoor to outdoor exhibits) or veterinary care (an animal voluntarily takes their yearly vaccine).  [/tab] [/tabs]