Many people are not aware of enrichment, the goals of enrichment, or the importance of it in all animals (yes, even my dogs and cats get it!). It helps to reduce stress, gives them something do, can help keep them in shape, and improves their quality of life.
Enrichment, in this case, is stimulating natural behavior for an animal in captivity. The key word in this sentence is NATURAL behavior. For example, Opossums are one of the rare animals that can fend off (and even hunt and eat) venomous snakes. Snakey McSnake-face is a tiny guy, who has to be weary of bigger predators eating him, including one of his own kind. Therefor, providing Dexter (an opossum) with snake skin is a delicious treat for him, versus providing a tiny snake (like Snakey McSnake-Face), with one is a frightening experience where he spends time trying to escape.
Enrichment also includes a goal. What is the goal you want your animal to accomplish with enrichment? Of course, all animals love leaves, but let’s say you want to animal the goal for for your animal might be to forage and find food. While Dexter (The opossum) and Henry (the Eastern Box Turtle) would excel at this, owls like Harriet hunt by sound and sight, and hiding food under leaves would not lead them to a successful goal of finding food. Of course, sometimes your goal can be for them to have fun (Like letting Harriet explore and play with toys and shoes), so it doesn’t have to be all work.
The educational ambassadors receive 5 different types of enrichment, including:
- Social- such as training and sometimes mirrors or teddy-bear look-alikes
- Cognitive- mental stimulation such as puzzle feeders, or having to work for their food or treat
- Physical- such as a new branch to climb, or dirt pile to climb over
- Sensory- something that stimulates one of the 5 senses, such as a piece of carpet or a scent to attract them
- Food- any time of food presentation, such as foraging, or a food item they would eat in the wild, like earth worms or fungus, or bark.
And these don’t always have to be extensive items- there are so many things you can do to improve their quality of life. Of course, if they get the same thing repeatedly, it stops being enrichment, because they stop receiving the stimulation they need.
Dexter, the educational ambassador Opossum, enjoying his snuffle mat enrichment