December 03, 2019

By Nate Aalund, Carnivore Keeper

Enrichment at the Saint Louis Zoo is an integral part of the daily husbandry of our animals. Enrichment can come in the form of objects, new experiences in animals' habitats or even food items presented in challenging ways. These opportunities help stimulate their mental, physical and emotional needs. When creating enrichment, we're always looking for the best materials to work with, and firehose has quickly become a favorite material to use.

Before diving into how much we love firehose, I really want to emphasize how important enrichment is to our Zoo. Every animal area, from elephants to insects, has a written enrichment program. Enrichment is an important part of a keeper's job. Each keeper is trained in providing enrichment and is expected to integrate it into their job expectations. Providing enrichment is not only a requirement of our accrediting institution, but it is also a fundamental part in how we provide a good quality of life for our animals. Our Zoo strives to go above and beyond industry expectations and standards.

Now, back to firehose! It is a very durable material that comes in all shapes and sizes. This allows us to use it for a huge range of animals, from 10,000-pound elephants to 10-pound mongoose lemurs. It can be easily cut, weaved, connected, anchored and strung up, so we can use it for an endless amount of opportunities. A few enrichment examples we use it for include toys, puzzle feeders, hammocks, walkways for certain animals, habitat "furniture," hanging apparatuses and more.

This has truly been a remarkable material to make its way into our profession. It's also an added perk that it is typically a donated item, so we don't have to spend any extra money. We are extremely grateful to work with companies that are willing to donate firehose to us. We're also really lucky to have two employees at the Zoo who are certified to teach firehose enrichment classes. These staff members are equipped with the knowledge of how to work with firehose and what sort of items can be made from it. Most zoos aren't fortunate enough to have this resource.

Especially at Jungle of the Apes, we use firehose a lot, particularly in the indoor habitats and in behind-the-scenes animal areas. We typically use it for hanging enrichment items, as well as creating hammocks and travel pathways. This past year, we have created new enrichment and changed these pathways, so pretty much everything you see is donated material from this past year. Our hope is to continue creating new firehose enrichment items for the outdoor habitats this winter.

We'd like to thank the City of St. Louis Fire Department, Wentzville Fire Department, Signal Hill Fire Department and the Swansea Fire Department for their donations.

Please enjoy some pictures of animals using firehose enrichment items!