What is enrichment?
Environmental enrichment is defined as the process of providing captive animals with stimulating environments where they are provided with items and surroundings that encourage naturalistic behaviours. Enrichment also allows captive animals and pets to have choices in and control over their environment, and provides them with an interesting space that inspires positive engagement.
The importance of enrichment:
Providing enrichment is a way to ensure that captive animals remain both physically fit and mentally healthy. Enrichment can achieve these outcomes by providing the animal with an environment that allows them to express natural behaviours and spend their time in as natural a way as possible, and to see their energy budget reflect that of wild conspecifics. An energy budget is merely a fancy science term for the proportion of time that the species spends engaged in each of its normal behaviours such as foraging, sleeping, playing, travelling, communicating through calls or scent marking and so on.
In most cases captivity places unnatural constraints on the animal and its ability to use its full cognitive capacity and display natural behaviours. If no effort is made to use environmental enrichment to compensate for the shortfalls of captivity the animal is likely to become bored and incredibly stressed as a result. When this happens the animal may begin to develop stereotypical and other abnormal behaviours as a way of coping with their mental anguish. Steretypical behaviours are defined as repetitive behaviours that do not serve any adaptive function; common examples include pacing back and forward, head bobbing or flicking, and self-injurious behaviours. Once an animal develops stereotypies they tend to persist over time. However, providing an enriching environment often prevents these behaviours from appearing and can significantly reduce the incidence of these behaviours in individuals who have developed stereotypies.
Types of Enrichment:
Enrichment can take many forms and can include the introduction of new items or structures into the animal’s environment as well as manipulation of their existing environment. Below are some examples of the types of enrichment. However the “categories” are loose and dynamic, and many forms of enrichment will overlap with or make use of others.
Structural Enrichment: Structural enrichment includes the enclosure design, platforms swings and climbing structures, as well as more temporary enrichment like swings and ladders etc. the aim of this type of enrichment is to provide the animal with a means of exhibiting natural forms of locomotion.
Object enrichment: Object enrichment includes the use of novel items that capture the animals’ interest and encourage play.
Sensory Enrichment: Like humans, animals experience the world via their senses, many of which are far more heightened in some species than they are in humans.
Each species will perceive the world very differently because each sense has its own importance and adaptive function. These senses will be heightened or diminished based on importance to that animal and how it interacts with its environment. For example sun bears have an extremely good sense of smell because they use their nose to help them find their food, which is often buried under ground or in logs. Primates on the other hand are much more visually focused.
Therefore, when providing enrichment it is important to learn about the species to make sure that any heightened senses are stimulated.
Food based enrichment: Most animals are highly food motivated. Food is generally hard to come by in the wild and foraging/hunting behaviours will generally represent a large proportion of their energy budget. Therefore, presenting food in novel and exciting ways that encourage natural behaviours is a great way to stave off boredom and increase activity. For many species, food based enrichment can also be incorporated into puzzles and brain teasers that mimic the cognitive skills requires to solve tricky food puzzles such as breaking into nuts, or extracting insects from their homes.
Enrichment must be well thought out and any risks must be mitigated by using the safest materials, practices and construction methods possible. Enrichment should also be regularly cleaned and disinfected if it is being moved between different enclosures. There is always an element of risk to providing enrichment but if the enrichment is carefully considered by trained staff this risk is small and is far outweighed by the benefits of enrichment. If rope or string is used to tie an enrichment item to the ceiling it should be secure to two different points on the ceiling in a v shape so that it does not present a choking hazard.
The enrichment items listed within have been successful with the animals in our care. We intend this information to act as a resource for us and anyone else caring for animals in captivity, so that we may share ideas in order to maintain the highest possible standard of care. We cannot take any responsibility for how our enrichment ideas are executed at other centres or for any freak accidents that may occur at other centres who use our enrichment ideas.
You can download our enrichment catalogue here!