As a child, I absolutely hated macaroni art. The act of gluing food parts to a sheet of paper seemed to me designed as some form of punishment, designed to punish me by having small pieces of pasta glued up and down my arms. Many other craft activities seemed to be along a similar thread, a waste of time with no real purpose. Being a zookeeper, I’ve had to re-evaluate my feelings because of a need to enrich a wide variety of animals.
Animal care staff are fairly crafty people – we have to be. The simple fact of the matter is that a variety of crafts open up doors to creating new ways to interact with our animals and encourage natural responses. Being able to create our own enrichment has a variety of benefits:
1) Purchasing enrichment pieces for all of our animals is simply not an option. With an animal collection numbering into the thousands, keepers at the Houston Zoo utilize their craftiness to come up with our own unique enrichment ideas for a fraction of the cost of purchased items.
2) Items to be purchased are not necessarily meant for the wide array of exotic animals that are housed at the Houston Zoo. While there are a variety of objects available to encourage interaction, they are typically designed with more domestic species in mind. Designed objects can be created with a variety of animals in mind.
3) Utilizing our creativity is a way for keepers to create many more nrichment opportunities than would normally be available. We can decide to change enrichment items to focus on different sensations or different natural behaviors.
This is our Pesquet’s Parrot (Psittrichas fulgidus) interacting with a phone book. As a novel item, this enrichment encourages a great deal of natural curiosity and observation. This bird is clearly observing the item from every feasible angle before finally reaching out to explore further using the nerve-laden tongue of a parrot.
Want to help further? We also have a wish list of items that many people throw away in the course of their day; some days, these few small items can make all the difference in the world in helping to create a “new” zoo everyday
Enrichment Day at the Houston Zoo is Saturday, September 24th. This is a great opportunity to come and join in the fun. Come out and see all of the animals enjoying special enrichment, hear keeper chats and loads of fun games for kids of all ages! Enrichment Day celebrates the meaning and joy of enriching our animals and visitors!
Find your favorite animals and see what they’re wishing for at Amazon.com. Then just sit back, shop, click and send your animal of choice a wonderful gift to enrich their life! They really do appreciate it and so does the Houston Zoo!
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