Numerous studies have been completed and millions of dollars have been spent studying animal behavior and enrichment. Many behaviorists and scientists believe that behavior is a consequence of both genetic and environmental factors. Studies have shown that captive animals living in environments that are not equivalent to a wild environment result in the loss of many patterns of natural behavior. A great deal of research and planning should go into housing any wild or exotic animal whether it is in a zoological facility, sanctuary, education facility or in private hands. The animal should be provided a life as natural and stress-free as possible. Part of this research should include the animal’s natural habitat in the wild, the animal’s behavior and needs. It is also necessary for the keepers to have an excellent ability to understand each individual animal’s personality.
At Indigo Mountain we feel it is a high priority to enrich the lives of the animals in our care. We have found active animals are healthier and spend less time involved in unhealthy activities. Enrichment doesn’t just take up time during the day; it also boosts the animal’s confidence and sharpens problem-solving capabilities.
Wild animals fill their days with hunting or foraging for food and protecting their territories from predators. In captivity food and water are provided, territories are clearly defined, social groupings are stable and there are no predators to confront. Their days are full of free time. To keep intelligent or exploratory animals from becoming hostile, aggressive or neurotic it is important to provide new, entertaining and challenging activities. Enrichment can be elaborate or simple. It can range from mechanical lures to simple digging mounds.
We recommend implementing an enrichment program designed with the wild animal’s natural history as well as the animal’s individual history in mind. It isn’t enough to throw out a ball or hide fruit. Do it right: determine any behavioral problems, plan the program, document what the animals do and what their response is to the enrichment and evaluate the program. Is it successful in reducing or alleviating the problems? Do the animals seem to enjoy and have fun with it?