Zoo visitors want to know that our animals have a stimulating life, with opportunities to engage in natural behaviors. An enriched zoo environment does just that and is defined as one that is interesting, allows animals to perform natural behaviors, permits them to be more active and increases the animals' control over their environment. Enrichment helps satisfy both the physical and psychological needs of animals and allows them to make choices. Thus, animal enrichment creates a win-win-win situation for the animals, visitors and keepers!
In the wild, animals must find food, defend territories, escape predators and build homes. In zoos, the majority of animals' needs are provided by the keepers, so other methods of physical and mental stimulation must be provided to encourage natural behaviors. As much as possible, a zoo environment is designed to mimic an animal's natural environment. Animal enrichment for bears and primates, which in the wild spend much of their waking hours foraging for food, may involve scattering food in straw or elsewhere around the enclosure to increase foraging time.
Enriching an animal's environment comes in many forms, including altering the physical environment, modifying animal care, creating social groupings and increasing sensory stimulation. You may have seen our bears playing with boomer balls and our apes playing with plastic crates. These are examples of adding "furniture" for an animal to play with. Other examples of animals enrichment include:
- providing live and artificial plants for shade and barriers
- creating vertical dimensions using trees, ropes or rock work to increase and enhance living space
- using puzzle feeders that offer a challenging and time-consuming method of obtaining food
- housing a variety of compatible animals from the same habitat together
- applying scents (spices, food, animal-lure, dung) around an exhibit
- simulating or using real prey items in predator exhibits to encourage stalk-and-chase behaviors
The Saint Louis Zoo Enrichment Committee oversees the enrichment programs which attempt to stimulate a species specific, naturalistic environmental, mental and physical stimulation, providing choices and a variety of opportunities for individuals and the interactions between individuals. The mission of the committee is to strive towards providing the animals in our care with an environment and activities that promote species-appropriate behavior and enhance individual well-being.