Enrichment at the Zoo

Polar Bear Enrichment

What Is Enrichment?

Enrichment is defined as any variable introduced into the animal's environment that stimulates mental and/or physical activity. Simply put, enrichment is meant to better the lives of animals through a variety of tools. Enrichment comes in many different forms ranging from something as simple as a change in food or diet to implementing a new training program for the animal.

Why is Enrichment Important?

Enrichment is an important aspect of animal life at the Zoo. It gives animals needed mental and physical stimulation. Training, for example, allows keepers to perform necessary husbandry and veterinary proceedures, with greater ease and less stress on the animal. Zoo visitors may have observed a common husbandry behavior when the Kodiak bears are asked to stand, so keepers may view their undersides to evaluate body conditions each day.

What are the different types of enrichment at the Zoo?

Diet Variation
A change in diet may be implemented for animals in many different forms. Presenting whole food instead of small pieces to promote more manual manipulation or offering smallpieces instead of whole items to promote longer periods of foraging behavior - is a simple way to stimulate natural responses.     

Browse
(limbs and leaves of trees and shrubs)
Browse is provided to many animals to be enjoyed as food, exhibit furniture or as a play item.

Puzzle Feeders
Puzzle feeders are objects that require manipulation to dispense food. These challenge the animals to use problem solving abilities to obtain food. Pieces of bamboo filled with peanut butter,honey, or raisins make excellent puzzle feeders for our bears.     

Sensory Stimulation
Sensory enrichment can involve any or all of the five senses. One of the easiest senses to stimulate is the sense of smell, especially with carnivores. For example, allspice and elephant manure stimulate scent-marking and predatory behaviors in the big cats.

Novel Objects
Using novel objects can be as simple as adding a pile of leaves to a habitat, giving snowballs to animals that live indoors, or placing live fish in the sea otter pool. Novel objects include anything that the animal does not experience on a regular basis.    

Training Programs
Training is a type of enrichment that provides mental stimulation to the animals through the process of learning. Training allows our veternarians to secure the cooperation of animals when practicing veterinary procedures such as drawing blood, obtaining weights, and conducting general body inspections. Zoo staff can make medical interactions positive experiences and reduce stress for everyone involved.

Enrichment At The Zoo

At the Pittsburgh Zoo all training programs use operant conditioning, a process of learning in which behaviors are modified by the consequences that follow them. If an animal is rewarded for a particular behavior, chances are that the behavior will be repeated.

A bridge--a sound or gesture that marks the exact moment that a desired behavior occurs--is used to facilitate this. A word, a whistle, or a clicker (a device which makes a clicking sound) are the most common auditory bridges used by trainers. At the Pittsburgh Zoo animal keepers are trainers, and before keepers begin teaching behaviors, they must make positive associations with their animals using a bridge. Sounding the bridge and providing a positive reinforcer (food) accomplishes this.

Behaviors that are useful in caring for and monitoring health may then be taught to the animals. These behaviors are taught in small steps, which, when combined, will produce a complete desired behavior. This process is called shaping. Using these techniques, trainers may teach many behaviors which can make the difference between life and death. Training a diabetic tiger to present its shoulders and hips to a keeper for required injections of insulin is just one noteworthy example.

Training is also beneficial in the general care of the animals. This care is referred to as animal husbandry.

The Zoo currently has training programs for:

    African elephants
    California sea lions
    Cotton-top tamarins
    Black rhinoceros
    Amur tigers
    Amur leopards
    Snow leopards
    African lions
    Black bears
    Kodiak bears
    Spectacled bears
    White-cheeked gibbons
    Bornean orangutans
    Diana monkeys
    Polar bears
    River otters
    White Spotted Eagle Rays
    Penguins
    Black and White Colobus
    Saki Monkeys
    Black Howler Monkeys
    Mandrills
    Octopus
    Black Footed Cat
    Blacktip reef sharks
    Bonnethead sharks
    Zebra sharks
    Queensland groupers
    White spotted bamboo sharks
    White spotted river rays

The Enrichment Committee invites visitors of all ages to explore classes held throughout the year which focus on this fascinating aspect of animal care.