Animal Enrichment Programs


Photo Credit: Valerie Abbott

Wild animals have to work for a living—to find food, defend territories, escape predators and secure shelter. This work keeps animals fit and engages them to solve problems, learn new things and, sometimes, to play, just for the fun of it.

In zoos, where people provide safety, food, and water, animals can become bored, overweight and depressed. Behavioral enrichment programs add changes and challenges—toys, odors, foods, plant materials and other objects—to an animal’s living space to engage it in behaviors typical for its species. Enrichment programs motivate animals to fly, dig, sing, jump, run, hunt, climb, play or otherwise behave naturally.

Your gift to the NC Zoo Society's Animal Enrichment Fund helps the Zoo buy the toys, the materials and the training that keepers and curators need to keep the Zoo's animals physically fit and psychologically healthy.

Toys appear in the exhibits as plastic crates, giant pickles, enormous balls, floating rafts, tattered towels, papier-maché eggs and other odds-and-ends. The training generally takes place off-exhibit and uses positive reinforcement to build trust and bonds between animals and their keepers.

Photo Credit: Valerie Abbott

    • Materials add variety to exhibits, such as scents, hidden foods, fresh dung, animal lures and even taped sounds—all selected to add challenges and evoke curiosity.
  • Food treats, which motivate animals so well that they are the most common form of enrichment. Keepers hide these treats, often packaging them in ways that entice an animal to find and unwrap the treat. The goal is to engage the animals in natural foraging and problem-solving behaviors.

Environmental enrichment is just as critical to Zoo animal well-being as good nutrition and veterinary medicine. Animal enrichment improves the lives of the animals and makes our visitors and keepers happier, too!

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.  ~
John Muir,  My First Summer in the Sierra (1911).

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