Enrichment is the process of providing an animal with stimulation that seeks to make an animal’s life in care more interesting and meaningful.
It is important to enrich an animal’s life so that we as care takers are providing for the animals physical, psychological needs as well as their general wellbeing as best as we possibly can.
Enrichment is beneficial to the animals in many different ways, including the following:
- Increasing the animals’ exercise.
- Allowing the animal to utilise the skills and behaviours that they would naturally use in the wild—such as climbing, jumping, scenting etc.
- Breaking up any repetitive behaviour patterns that often form in captivity.
Giving the animals something different, something to explore, scent, and play with.
Encouraging social/group interaction between the animals.
At Cheetah Experience we try to implement many different enrichments, as often as we can for all of the different species.
There are different forms of enrichment:
- Environment Enrichment—providing the animal with a stimulating environment, creating an enclosure that is designed to mimic the animal’s natural environment as well as behaviours.
- Food Enrichment—Offering the animals a wider range of food types, giving a carcass rather than cut up meat, leaving the skin on the meat. Hiding food and using puzzle feeding, mixing up the feeding routine, scatter feed, or hang up the food… All these different methods of using food as a way to enrich the animal should be used to encourage the animal to have a more natural hunting./foraging behaviours, and gives them a chance to solve the puzzle, or use their eyes and noses to look for the food more like they would in the wild.
- Scent Enrichment—Leaving scent trails around the enclosure will encourage the animals to explore and use their minds to work out who or what left the trail. Spraying different scents in and around the enclosure will also encourage the animals to move about, mark and investigate.
- Object Enrichment—The animals will always want to investigate a new item that is placed in their enclosure, be it something permanent or temporary it is sure to catch the animal’s interest. Animals can’t help but pull, push, mark, jump on, roll, bite new items, it’s in all of our natures to want to know more about everything and animals are no exception.
- We have tried lots of different enrichments at Cheetah Experience, and are always keen to discover new ideas and ways to make our animals lives more interesting.
- Cardboard boxes—every animal big and small love cardboard boxes, wether they are scented or just as they are, the animals love to smash them up, get inside them (just like kids at Christmas), roll on and mark them. Acinonyx our white lion picks his up and proudly carries boxes around his enclosure, while Mischief our spotted leopard rolls on, flattens them and marks them up with her scent. The caracals and servals jump in and usually wee on them before falling asleep inside.
- Animal pelts—we drape animal skins over rocks, or tie them to posts to allow the animals to pull at them, drag them round and just have a lot of fun destroying them!
- Coconuts, Watermelon, pumpkin, apple, carrots etc—No matter what we do with these items the animals have a lot of fun with them. The wolves especially like to bob for apples in their pond all year round, not just at Halloween. Panthera our black leopard kicks a coconut round much like a football. The meerkats cannot resist climbing in and out of carved pumpkins and fruits. Even the cheetahs join in when there are little squashes and pumpkins stuffed with chicken wings as a treat.
- Scent trails—The wolves are the experts at following the scent trails, with their exceptional sense of smell they sniff all around the enclosure where we have marked with different smells. Mischief also loves scents, if she likes the smell of something she will rub in and roll in an area for over an hour. Mikey and the serval girlies rub and mark something they like so much that their faces are wet with saliva.
- Frozen treats—On a hot South African day we try to treat our animals to frozen bloodsicles, or milk popsicles to cool them down. Fushan and the lions dig straight in, they don’t worry at all about brain freeze, whereas the leopards and cheetahs are more delicate, allowing the ice to melt a little before licking the melted icy treat. The wolves also crunch on the ice, or mess around with it as it floats on their pond.
- Puzzle boxes—We often fill cardboard boxes with different textures and sounds, then cut holes in the side for the smaller cats to reach into, knock over and play with.
There are many other different things that we have tried and offer to the animals regularly, such as bringing in termite mounds for the meerkats, tyres, new logs and branches, cooked spaghetti, paper mache boxes and balloons and bungee feeding. We have also brought in rhino, giraffe and antelope poo and introduced the animal to those different smalls to see how they react.
It’s always interesting to see how the animals react to all these different things, sometimes they will ignore the enrichment completely the first few times, but on the third or fourth time suddenly their interest peaks and they will take on the challenge of finding out what the enrichment is all about.
Even if the animal doesn’t react immediately or on the first try, it is important to offer again before dismissing the idea completely. Different things work for different animals and patience is the key. Even if you do not record a response, it is likely that the animal has noticed the change in their enclosure. Their interest and thought process is not always something we can see but even still the animal has something different to think about, smell and see, no matter how subtle.
If you would like to help us, or be a part of our enrichment programme, please refer to our Animal Enrichment Wish List or contact us directly.