Animal Enrichment

Animal Enrichment Talk 


  •  An animal husbandry principle that seeks to enhance the quality of captive animal care by identifying and providing environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and physiological well-being.

Types of Enrichment 

  • Behavior based enrichment: Keepers select enrichment based on a particular behavior they would like to elicit from the animals. This enrichment is goal based. 
  • Item based enrichment: Keepers select items to use as enrichment without a particular goal in mind. 
  • Social: Conspecifics (other individuals of same species) ... is the animal usually solitary or do they spend their time in groups? They look at interaction with other animals.  Do these individuals interact with other individuals from other species? Interaction with people, do they interact with keepers, trainers, veterinarians or visitors? Or we can look at other enrichment through mirrors and stuffed animals that look like the individual can aid in enrichment and give the sense of other individuals when there isn’t really others.
  • Cognitive: This enrichment includes mental stimulation and novel experience. Mental stimulation makes an animal think through things that they normally wouldn’t enrichment includes training and puzzle feeders. Novel experience involves a novel item, new food or scent that they are not used to and allows an animal to be curious and investigate in learning what the new thing is. 
  • Physical habitat: This can include perching/ climbing structures, nest/den, refuges, climate gradients. With perching/climbing structure there are textures, sizes, resting spots and how much it moves can be changed to change the environment and how an animal may get out. With substrates material and amount can change the environment an animal lives in and changing the way an animal may get water and the amount of it available can be enriching. With nest/den materials are supplied so that they can build their own, places are available to build a nest and amount keepers may make for the animals if they do not build their own. Refuges allow for a place where animals can hide from both other animals and people, can be a physical or visual barrier, do not always have to be enclosed spaces but can be places they get a higher viewpoint, these spaces also allow animals to get out of particular weather. Climate gradients include the amount of sunlight, varying temperatures, amount of wind and humidity.

Sensory Enrichment

  • Tactile: different textures and things an animal can manipulate with hands, feet, or mouths. 
  • Olfactory and taste: can be natural scents from other animals pulled from fur, urine and feathers. Also from hidden scents that an animal has to find. 
  • Auditory: vocalizations from the same species or other species. Noise makers, white noise, and music are also used. 
  • Visual: sight of prey, mirrors or moving toys. Things can be placed within visual range of the animals but not where they can touch it.

Food Enrichment

  • Novel food items: this includes food items that are not part of the normal diet for that animal. This can be special treats or different prey items for carnivores. 
  • Food presentation: this includes puzzle feeders, scatter feeding, hidden or buried food. 

Choosing and Testing Items

We use the S.P.I.D.E.R model

  • S- Set goals: first take a look at an animal’s natural behavior. Determine behaviors that should be encouraged and those that should be discouraged. Take into account the amount of time the animal is active and if they live in social groups or are solitary. 
  • P-Plan: decide which enrichment will be implemented to achieve the behavioral goals, take into consideration the materials needed, how many times it will be used or if it will be reusable and if there are any safety concerns. 
  • I-Implement: Execute the planned enrichment. Enrichment can be scheduled in a calendar format. This allows items to be prepared ahead of time and be available. 
  • D-Document: In a calendar format enrichment can be crossed off as it is provided. Take pictures and videos to document these occurrences. Written logs are useful to jot out the animal’s interaction with the item. This allows for racking of enrichment initiatives. 
  • E-Evaluate: Documentation can help with this step. It determines the effectiveness of an enrichment item and can be helpful in changing an item, determining other possible enrichment items and how the program itself is doing. Questions to ask when evaluating: did the enrichment contribute to reaching the desired goal and did it encourage or discourage the intended behavior? 
  • R-Readjust: This step is used when a goal is not met, and is done throughout the entire process and not just the end. It be adjusting the goal, planned initiatives or the documentation process.