Last week we posted a brief introduction of enrichment activities at the Houston Zoo. We explained what enrichment is, the purpose it serves, and provided you with a few examples.
This week, we have our first installment of the series: some of the carnivore enrichment we do with our big (and small) cats!
One of the objects used for enrichment with our felines here at the Houston Zoo is something called wood wool. Wood wool, pictured to the right, looks like straw and is made of wood slivers cut from logs. Our keepers will often spray the wood wool with a scent (in this case they used perfume) to try and elicit such behaviors as rubbing and rolling, as was the case in this particular enrichment exercise.
Much to the delight of our keepers, a number of our cats demonstrated the rubbing and rolling behaviors, along with a few others! There was also marking, and a behavior called “flehmen.”
When an animal demonstrates this behavior, it will draw back its lips and press the tongue against the roof of its mouth, forcing air through the vomeronasal organ. This concentrates the scent and allows the cat to smell-taste, rather than just smell it. Upon smelling the pungent aroma of perfume on the wood wool, a few of our cats began to exhibit this flehmen response.
While observing these behaviors, I noticed a few in particular really enjoyed the wood wool. It seems that our clouded leopard was rather fond of the smell!
Although not all of the carnivores were interested in the scented wood wool, many of them demonstrated the desired behaviors and it was a fun experience to watch!
You can come and see some of the enrichment activities yourself on the Houston Zoo Enrichment Day held on September 22, 2012. It is an opportunity for everyone to come to the Zoo and witness some of the amazing natural, and trained behaviors of our beautiful, wild animals.
If you are interested in helping with the enrichment program here at the Houston Zoo, check out what your favorite animals are wishing for at Amazon.com