Enrichment is providing stimulating and challenging environments, objects, and activities for animals. Providing an interactive enviroment is as critical to an animal's well-being as having the right food and medical care. Play toys, foraging toys, tunnels, and climbing branches or ropes might not seem very exciting to you and me, but for some animals that's the perfect playground! Providing the right environment for animals is crucial. Animals need opportunities to run, jump, pounce, climb, burrow, dive, hunt for food, and explore. Enrichment keeps animals mentally and physically fit.
Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing the animal's welfare.
Types of Enrichment
It is important to have knowledge of a species’ natural behaviors and physiology when developing enrichment program. Several categories of enrichment are then used to enhance that species’ behavioral, physical, social, cognitive, and psychological well being. These categories are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, however each, if relevant to the species, should be incorporated into an animal’s enrichment plan.
Environmental Enrichment Devices
Environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) are objects that can be manipulated by the animal. These objects may be novel or pre-existing. Natural EEDs may include foraging treats, large and small branches, eucalyptus sticks, acacia gum or gumivore-fare stuck into creveces, and natural honey or sugar cane sticks, however these items should be kept clean to prevent bacterial growth. Man-made EEDs may include premade items such as interactive toys, swings, pouches, and exercise wheels.
Habitat design is an important consideration for providing enrichment. Habitats should provide a variety of substrates, levels, and complexities. Considerations should be given to useable space versus total space, and ease of reaching or changing platforms, tiers, ropes, nesting/denning areas, feed/water dispensers, and crevices/crannies for EED/enrichment food hiding.
Animal sensory systems are typically specialized by species and play crucial roles in their survival. Sensory enrichment is designed to address the animal’s sense of smell, touch, hearing, vision, and taste and elicit species-specific response, territorial, reproductive or hunting behaviors. Olfactory stimuli may include natural predator, pheromone, or prey scents or novel scents such as spices or perfumes. Tactile stimuli may include a variety of EEDs that can be manipulated including materials of different textures such as straw, soft blankets, paper, burlap, cardboard, or wood. Auditory stimuli may include the presentation of natural sounds or animal vocalizations recordings. Visual stimuli may include EEDs of different colors, those that move by wind or water current, animals in the line of sight from other habitats, video presentations, or mirrors. Gustatory stimuli include food enrichment items, flavored sprays, or beverages.
Food can be presented in a variety of ways elicit feeding, hunting, foraging behaviors, problem-solving strategies, and to facilitate behavioral conditioning. Food may be fresh, dried, frozen, soft, hard, smooth, rough, heavy, light or cold. Food can also be incorporated into drawers, barrels, globes, dispensers in order to hide them around the habitat, instead of having the animal simply walk up to the same dish used every day, placed in the same place.
Social groupings should resemble those observed in the wild to facilitate feeding, grooming, social, territorial, and courtship behaviors. Mixed species exhibits may also provide symbiotic or complementary activities between the species.
Enrichment devices should be presented on a varied schedule and in a variety of contexts to make sure the animals do not become desensitized or habituated to them. When a speicifc enrichment toy is introduced into a habitat you should make note of the duration you keep it in the habitat and the location so the environment does not become repetitive. Randomize the presentation of the cage week to week. Also keep note of the animal’s responses to the enrichment to ensure that safety continues to be a priority and that the animals are still stimulated by it.
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Please Note: Exotic Nutrition is not able to provide specific health and care guidelines on an individual basis. Please contact an accredited veterinarian if you have a pet emergency.