Enrichment involves creating changes and enhancing an animal’s environment by adding new scents, objects, sounds, food items, and re-arranging exhibit furniture. Since enrichment programs are designed to encourage natural behaviors, they are based on access to basic animal research and understanding of species’ behavioral biology. Zoos and aquariums are responsible for taking care of each animal’s mental or psychological well-being, as well as their physical needs. Enrichment programs take into account USDA and AZA requirements and recommendations. Information, guidelines, and suggestions are shared between facilities through websites, conferences, publications, and workshops. In order to ensure that the most effective enrichment is offered, enrichment programs require goals/planning, observation, documentation, evaluation, and re- adjustments. In addition, all enrichment must go through an approval process to ensure the safety of the animals, since not all items are appropriate for all species.
Operant conditioning (training) is also an important part of enrichment programs. Through operant conditioning, animals voluntarily perform certain behaviors that assist with husbandry routines, and veterinary requirements. Examples of these behaviors include shifting into an exhibit or holding area, presenting paws for pad and nail checks, opening their mouth, sitting on a scale, voluntary blood draw, hand injections for vaccines or sedation, and allowing touching for a physical exam. This is especially important for dangerous animals that keepers and veterinarians cannot go into enclosures with, for addressing minor concerns, eliminating the need for darting, reducing the stress involved with treatments or inspections, and reducing the need for sedation. Behaviors like these are captured and positively reinforced using a target, which animals are usually trained to touch their nose to, and some sort of bridge, like a clicker or whistle. Each behavior is assigned a command and they are taught that the bridge signifies a correct response to a command. When a correct response is given, the animals are rewarded with their favorite treat item and/or a portion of their regular prescribed diet. Operant conditioning not only assists veterinarians and keepers, but also provides the animals with entertainment and the ability to make choices.
Enrichment Wish List
Support the Binghamton Zoo and help us create stimulating environments for the animals you visit at the zoo! Below is a list of items you can purchase for the zoo’s animals. What a unique way of giving back!