ed. note: This article originally appeared in our bi-monthly Members magazine, Exzooberance.
Build up. Sweeten. Jazz up. These are just a few synonyms of a word used a lot at the Memphis Zoo. When it comes to the animals in our care, we strive daily to supplement, better, augment and upgrade their quality of life. In another word, we do all we can to enrich.
Enrichment takes on many different forms depending on the animals' needs, but the common goal of all enrichment is to stimulate each animal to use its natural instincts and live the same quality of life it would live in its natural environment. Enrichment activities not only entertain the animals, but also cause them to think, problem solve and work the same ways they would in the wild.
It's not always easy to find ways to engage the animals in natural behavior, but zookeepers have become very resourceful to help the animals.
"Many times our visitors are shocked to see a large, rubber trash can in our wombat exhibit," said Animals of the Night keeper Amber Babst. "But 'Kindalin' loves it! Wombats are natural burrowers. Having something as simple as a trash can in his exhibit gives him a den to nestle into whenever he wants."
Blankets for the orangutans. A passion flower vine for the sloths. Colorful balls for the bonobos. Even a plastic snowman for the polar bears! These are all forms of enrichment you've probably seen at the Zoo, and they are much more than just toys. They are ways for our animals to just be themselves and enjoy the environment in which they live.
"Think of it like your cat at home," explained CHINA keeper, Jamie McTyre. "When you play with it by dangling a string in front of it, you are doing more than just playing. By doing this you are actually promoting your cat's natural hunting instinct as you see it stalk and eventually pounce on the toy. It's fun for you both, but it's also keeping its body healthy and its brain active."
This Memorial Day, we are celebrating our animals with a full day of enrichment activities throughout the Zoo. When you visit us May 26, be sure to grab a special schedule of all the enrichment taking place. We promise you will walk away feeling boosted. Elevated. Sharpened... maybe even enriched.