The answer is enrichment

... to the question, how do we recreate situations that will encourage animals’ natural behaviours?

Climbing, scratching, digging, foraging, sniffing, rubbing, chewing, stalking, scent marking and problem solving are just a few of the many diverse natural behaviours animals exhibit when living in the complex and stimulating environment of their natural habitat.

But what happens when these animals live in zoos and wildlife parks? How do the people responsible for animals’ welfare and wellbeing recreate situations that will encourage natural behaviours?

The answer is ‘enrichment’.

For the zoological community, enrichment is the word that describes the approaches and principles adopted to improve the wellbeing of the animals in our care, no matter whether they are furry, feathery or scaly.

Expert knowledge is used to develop husbandry methods that are a million miles away from the early Victorian style or agricultural practices which were essentially ‘confinement, feeding and watering’.

Animal care staff have been enriching the lives of animals for as long as there have been zoos and zookeepers. In the 1930s, a study was carried out at ZSL London Zoo on a group of hamadryas baboons, it showed that when greater thought was applied to animals’ accommodation needs it had a profound effect on the behaviours displayed. However, it was only relatively recently (1970s) that the concept of manipulating an animal’s environment to change its behaviour was formerly described as enrichment.

Today, at both ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, we have thousands of animals from hundreds of species. Caring for such a great diversity of animals is undoubtedly challenging as we aim to maintain the collection in accordance with their natural behaviours.

As a result you will see puzzle feeders, physically challenging feeding poles, climbing apparatus, variable substrates on enclosure floors, differing food types, novel objects to encourage exploration and play and scented herbs and plants, all of which attempt to allow the animals to behave as they would in their natural surroundings.

These often innovative methods are constantly being developed by ZSL staff, behavioural research students and colleagues in other organisations. We aim to carry on extending the boundaries and continue to ensure that enrichment is integral to normal daily husbandry practice.