If you have had the pleasure of visiting your Zoo on certain weekends in the past few months, you will have seen various animal enrichment activities going on throughout the Zoo. Not only is it a treat for our visitors to watch the animals enjoying specially created food and play items, but the animals benefit from the enhanced stimulation provided by the enrichment objects.

The themed enrichment days we hold at the Zoo give a little bit of extra excitement for visitors, but animal enrichment is actually going on all the time with our animals. According to the American Association of Zoo Keepers, the main idea of enrichment is to add to a captive animal’s environment or modify the environment to stimulate behaviors resembling those of a healthy wild animal.

Enrichment is intended to encourage behaviors that are appropriate for the species and that satisfy an animal’s physical and psychological needs. This could include anything from the design of the exhibit to resemble what the animal might encounter in the wild to social groupings and grooming practices. As much as possible, zoo keepers try to provide animals with food choices, social situations and environmental stimulants that keep them close to what they might experience out in the wild.

Generally, enrichment can be divided into several basic types:

  • Exhibit design
  • Social grouping
  • Feeding or foraging
  • Novel objects or toys
  • Visual
  • Olfactory (smell)
  • Auditory or verbal
  • Tactile
  • Training and handling
  • Rearing concerns

Each type of enrichment plays an important part in how an animal views the world and how it reacts to its surroundings. Just like the most visible enrichment you might notice here at Fresno Chaffee Zoo, perhaps the most widely used form of enrichment involves food. Our keepers regularly provide food objects to our animals that help stimulate natural behaviors such as foraging. For example, cut-up vegetable might be placed inside a box and hidden in the enclosure for animals to search out, utilizing their sense of smell and natural searching tendencies. Food can also be varied in type and texture to give the animals variety.

When you look around the Zoo, you might notice baskets containing food hung in the trees for birds or primates to discover, large rubber balls for the tigers or elephants to play with, or even the design of the siamang and orangutan exhibit that resembles a natural habitat. These are all types of enrichment our animals enjoy on a regular basis, but they also receive special enrichment on occasion. Our sea lion Nadine, for example, has the opportunity to paint with her nose when occasion permits, or our tigers might have the chance to “hunt” a papier mache animal rubbed with the scent of prey or filled with meat.

Zoo staff has also been making extra efforts to let our visitors enjoy animal enrichment by holding special themed enrichment days around holidays and special occasions. In December we held “Santa Paws” and provided animal-appropriate gifts to our zoo residents; in April we held an animal egg hunt, and in May some animals enjoyed specially crafted piñatas filled with their favorite treats. These enrichment days are held nearly once a month and also include a valentine theme in February, an ice theme in August, and a Halloween pumpkin “Stomp ‘n’ Chomp.” Each of these enrichment days are free with Zoo admission (free for members) and provide a day where you have the opportunity to see some of the animals displaying natural hunting or foraging behaviors and being perhaps a little more active than usual.

So if you haven’t already, take advantage of your Zoo and visit during one of our themed enrichment days. You’ll not only get to see animals enjoying their themed treats, you’ll have an excuse to come visit your Zoo and remember how much fun it is to come see the variety of wildlife that lives right here in Fresno

How Can I Help?

Now donating to Fresno Chaffee Zoo is even easier with our online Amazon Wish List. We are always in need of more enrichment items. If you’d like to help out, to go to our Amazon Wish List. If the link does not redirect you, go to Amazon.com and search “Fresno Chaffee Zoo” under Find a Wish List or Registery.

There are four wish lists on the left-hand side of the screen:

  1. Mammals
  2. Birds
  3. Hoofstock/Elephants
  4. Education/Valley Farm

Animals include: Tigers, Orangutans, Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, Anteaters, Lemurs, River Otters and more! Items listed will provide ongoing support to the zoo and help Zoo staff by continuing to offer enrichment programs that both challenge and stimulate the animals. Purchase what you’d like to donate and next time you visit, it could be your toy the tiger is playing with!