By Sarah Doherty, CHINA Keeper
Animals in Action.
What does that mean at the Memphis Zoo? It means keeping our animals mentally and physically active through enrichment, training, and animal interactions.
Enrichment comes in many forms. For instance cats love scents; pandas like cardboard boxes that hide their favorite treats; and some primates like to create nests with wood wool. Keepers give animals enrichment to help elicit natural behaviors such as foraging, hunting, burrowing, climbing, and nesting – ones that would be the same or similar to that animal’s wild counterparts.
One of the most useful forms of enrichment is training. At the zoo, we use positive reinforcement, which just means animals are given a cue and when they do the behavior they get a reward. Training is voluntary and the animal always has the choice not to participate.
Most behaviors keepers train our animals are to help with their veterinary procedures and check ups. They may be trained to stand on scales, present their feet, open their mouth, go into crates, voluntarily get vaccinations, and be still for ultrasound procedures. Other behaviors are used to build a relationship between a keeper and the animal. These behaviors can be as simple as having the animal vocalize, trade an item from their enclosure for treats, or paint. Many of our animals paint and at the front of the zoo there will be a table where you can purchase a one-of-a-kind piece from one of our animals. All proceeds go towards conservation efforts being done for similar animals in the wild through our Memphis AAZK chapter.
Animals in Action day is Saturday, April 8th, which is also Zoo Lover’s Day. Along with special enrichment and training demonstrations throughout the zoo, we will be having several tables where children can experience similar enrichment items that our animals will have. When you visit the zoo that Saturday, make sure to get an Animals in Action schedule to see all the activities taking place.