Animal Enrichment

What is animal enrichment and why is it important?

Animal enrichments are activities that help to enhance the care that keepers provide throughout the year by creating a more stimulating environment for the animals and eliciting some of their natural behaviors such as exploration, foraging, locomotion, social interaction, manipulating objects or simply playing. A good enrichment is challenging and time consuming. The range of behaviors encouraged provides a better experience for both the animals and visitors alike.

What does animal enrichment look like?

Visitors will find evidence of enrichment in exhibits all around the zoo, even though the animals may or may not be actively involved at any given time.  As a result, an exhibit might look messy or contain things that are not “natural.”  For example, visitors might see paper bags, cardboard boxes or children’s toys in an exhibit.  Of course, these are not natural items that an animal would come across in the wild.  What is important is the activity elicited in the animals.  

A paper bag or cardboard box containing hay and crickets becomes a foraging device for meerkats to search for food. A plastic turtle brings out a young cotton top tamarin’s curiosity and exploratory behaviors. A stiff plastic kiddie pool provides wading opportunities for ibises or a fishing hole for the wolves.  In other words, these recycled items become catalysts for wild behavior in our animals. 

When can visitors see animal enrichment in action?

Zookeepers often give the animals unscheduled enrichments, which may be seen throughout the zoo at any time.  Docents lead scheduled enrichments on a weekly basis and during many special events, barring last-minute changes due to inclement weather or the needs of the animals or zoo staff.  

Can visitors help with enrichment activities?

Yes. If you would like to help with enrichment, you can donate supplies by checking our Enrichment Wish List or consider becoming a Potter Park Zoo Docent!

But please remember that while enrichment has been approved as safe and put into exhibits by zoo staff, our zoo visitors should NEVER put anything into animal exhibits. Even harmless looking items (even some sticks or leaves) can be dangerous or toxic for some animals.