In the wild, animals spend a great deal of their time hunting and foraging for food, creating nests or dens, and eluding predators. The quality care that zoos provide their animals, such as nutritional, balanced diets, shelter, preventative heath care, and protection from predation, can cause an unintentional side-effect. With their basic needs met, some animals may stop exhibiting species-appropriate behaviors because they are no longer necessary.
That's where behavioral enrichment comes in. Enrichment enhances all aspects of animal welfare, and addresses the normal physical and psychological needs of each animal. Creative and challenging activities provide animals with mental and physical stimulation, allowing them to learn, interact, investigate, and make their own choices, which gives them a sense of control.
Enrichment is achieved in many different ways including toys, food, and their exhibit environment, and it encourages natural behaviors similar to those of their wild counterparts.
Natural exhibits with plants, rocks, trees, and water features are not only aesthetically pleasing to visitors, but are designed to recreate natural habitats as much as possible. Live and artificial limbs and trees offer animals a place to climb, scratch, swing from, scent mark and rest on, and materials such as bushes, shrubs, sticks, grass, and rocks provide them with places to relax, hide, and offer shelter from the elements. Sticks and other natural materials are offered to animals like birds that create their own nests. Random alterations are also made to exhibits to continue to create interest and encourage the animals to interact and investigate.
To mimic the natural hunting and foraging of food, zookeepers will scatter or hide the animals' diet, encouraging them to search for it. Food is also hung from trees or frozen in popsicles, challenging the animals to work for the food. Boomer balls, puzzles, pinatas, and other toys add variety and allow the animals to make choices. It also helps increase the animal's curiosity or enjoyment of its surroundings.