Zoo doings: Enrichment tree encourages giving to the animals during holiday season

Published on Saturday, 7 December 2013 20:37 - Written by cdillard@tylerpaper.com

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By Coshandra Dillard

This Christmas season, children aren’t the only ones getting special treats under the tree. Animals at Caldwell Zoo will be getting into the holiday spirit as well.

As part of the zoo’s enrichment program, nearly all of the more than 2,000 animals there will receive a gift.

Now through Jan. 2, guests can select an ornament from the Enrichment Giving Tree. Each ornament features a picture of an animal along with a suggested item that the animal would enjoy.

“We think about their natural behaviors in the wild and we try to ask for items that would help them use those natural behaviors,” Lauren Furch, a Caldwell Zoo educator, said.

The zoo has implemented the enrichment tree for about the last five years. While enrichment happens year-round, donated gifts add excitement for the animals and help spark Christmas-giving cheer for the community.

“All of these enrichments that we ask for enhance the daily lives of our animals,” Ms. Furch said. “It’s something different than just going out on exhibit, eating their food and coming back at the end of the day. This gives something to interact with new and different. We try not to repeat enrichments every day because then its not enrichment anymore.”

Items range from toys to food.

“Enrichments can be food-based. They can be sensory based,” Ms. Furch said. “It could be auditory or visual. We use spices, colognes with sensory. A lot of times when our animals spend time inside on freezing cold days and rainy days, we have radios. We play nature CDs for them.”

Big cats there go crazy for cabbage and bears love cinnamon. Rhinos want a One World Futbol and coatis, a raccoon-like animal native to South Texas and South America, desire cologne.

“They enjoy cologne and perfume,” said Ms. Furch. “We spray it in their exhibit or we spray it in dried leaves and put leaf piles in their exhibit. They rub their tails on it.”

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums — the accrediting agency for zoos — mandates enrichment programs for accredited zoos. Activities are carefully screened and approved by zoo staff.

“Above all, it’s about safety — something they can’t consume and hurt themselves,” said Michelle Shockley, a keeper in the mammal department. “And then something that will engage in for more than five seconds — something that they’ll keep coming back to and be curious about.”

Each keeper department makes up a calendar every month. Some animals get one item every other week while others may get them once every other month.

For animals that get special treats, such as mealworms in a decorated box, the box itself may be the enrichment. When zoo workers draw in paint or chalk on the animals’ walls and floor, they become enthralled in the different shapes and sizes.

If unable to visit the zoo, gift purchases can be made by calling or emailing the zoo.

For more information about the enrichment program, or the enrichment tree, emaileducation@caldwellzoo.org or call 903-593-0121.