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Cheetah Kulinda is just wild for zoo life thanks to enrichment programs

Kamahl Cogdon, November 28, 2021 2:30PM Kids News

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Cheetah Kulinda gets to exercise her hunting instinct as she chases a high-speed lure pulling meat through her habitat at Werribee Open Range Zoo. Picture: Zoos Victoria media_cameraCheetah Kulinda gets to exercise her hunting instinct as she chases a high-speed lure pulling meat through her habitat at Werribee Open Range Zoo. Picture: Zoos Victoria

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Hand up if you’ve ever been bored. Life can feel pretty dull when we don’t have things to keep our mind and body active, like playing games, doing the stuff we like, trying new things, exercising and even going to school to learn.

Things like this enrich* our lives and make us feel good – and it’s no different for animals in our zoos.

Zoos Victoria animal behaviour specialist Sue Jaensch said enrichment* programs were an important part of keeping zoo animals healthy and happy.

“Well-designed enrichment is important for animal welfare* because it provides opportunities for animals to engage in a range of physical and psychological* activities that support wellbeing,” Ms Jaensch said.

Cheetah Lure at Werribee Open Range Zoo

For animals, enrichment means having a variety of activities, experiences and habitat designs that encourages them to use their senses, move their bodies, and display the natural and healthy behaviours they would in the wild.

Zookeepers and other experts carefully design enrichment activities so they are suitable for each animal, taking into account their species, personality and age.

The keepers at Werribee Open Range Zoo in Victoria use a lure* to encourage cheetah Kulinda’s natural behaviour to chase down prey. The motorised lure pulls a piece of meat around Kulinda’s habitat at high speed, not only encouraging her hunting instinct but also vigilance*, stalking* and chasing.

Feeding device enrichment for Asian small-clawed otter at Melbourne Zoo. media_cameraA feeding device is used to enrich the lives of the Asian small-clawed otters like this little guy at Melbourne Zoo. Picture: Zoos Victoria

At Melbourne Zoo, keepers have built a special feeding device for the otter family. The device floats in the water, mimicking* some of the challenging conditions they would encounter in the wild. The otters need to work together and problem solve to get the food out of the tricky device.

Providing choice is another key part of Zoos Victoria’s approach to animal enrichment. Animals that are able to make choices in their habitat, such as deciding when to move between indoor and outdoor areas or whether to engage with an enrichment item, are more likely to display positive, natural and healthy behaviours.

TYPES OF ENRICHMENT

Environmental – this involves using items and creating experiences that encourage animals to show their natural behaviours, such as running, climbing or playing. For example, placing a food item in a hard-to-reach location encourages animals to work for their meal as they would in the wild and helps keep their body healthy.

Figian crested iguana rope enrichment at Melbourne Zoo. media_cameraRope training was introduced as a new form of physical and environmental enrichment for the Fijian crested iguanas at Melbourne Zoo. The reptiles learnt to walk across the rope to move in and out of their habitat to feast on hibiscus flowers – a delicious treat if you’re an iguana. Picture: Zoos Victoria

Physical – these are often included in habitat design. They can include trees, ropes, platforms, burrows and obstacles that offer animals the chance to interact with their surroundings.

Cognitive – this is about keeping an animal’s mind active, encouraging them to solve problems and think about what they are doing, how and why. Examples include hiding food in puzzling contraptions or introducing new enrichment items into their habitat.

Lion scent enrichment at Werribee Open Range Zoo. media_cameraKeepers at Werribee Open Range Zoo rub coffee grounds over logs and rocks in the lion habitat to stimulate the residents’ senses. The lionesses respond by rubbing themselves against the grounds and one another, scent marking, and occasionally having a playful wrestling match. Picture: Zoos Victoria

Sensory – introducing new sounds, smells and tastes to an animal’s habitat encourages them to experience their environment in new ways. These enrichments often encourage behaviours such as vocalisations* and play.

Ms Jaensch said it was important to provide experiences that imitated those that animals got in the wild.

“Animals have specialised skills and abilities that evolved to help them survive in the wild,” she said. “By providing wild-type experiences, animals are able to draw on these unique behaviours that they may not have had the motivation* or need to do otherwise.”

These experiences are also a great way of educating zoo visitors about wildlife.

Ms Jaensch said every zoo inhabitant deserved to have their life enriched, but it was harder to provide enrichment for some animals than others.

“Some animals are difficult to enrich, simply because we don’t know much about them,” Ms Jaensch said.

“Regardless, every animal deserves to experience positive welfare, so we should challenge ourselves to consider how we can provide enriching experiences for all.”

GLOSSARY

  • enrich: improve, make better, richer
  • enrichment: the act of improving, making better, richer
  • welfare: health and happiness
  • psychological: affecting the mind
  • lure: an object used to attract an animal
  • vigilance: keeping careful watch
  • stalking: following without being noticed
  • mimicking: imitating, copying
  • vocalisations: sounds made with the voice
  • motivation: the need or reason to do something

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What job does Sue Jaensch have?
  2. What do keepers place on the lure to encourage cheetah Kulinda to chase down prey?
  3. Which zoo is Kulinda at?
  4. Which zoo uses a special feeding device for the otter family?
  5. Why does Sue Jaensch say it is difficult to provide enrichment for some animals?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Zookeeper presentation
Have you ever been to the zoo and watched a keeper presentation about one of the animals? Pretend you are a zookeeper who will be giving a presentation about an animal of your choice.

Write down what you will say to your audience to explain what enrichment is and why it is important for animals at the zoo. Tell your audience about the enrichment experiences provided to this particular animal, using either examples provided in the news story or your own ideas of what would be suitable for them.

When writing your presentation, try to use the writer’s trait of “voice” to let your own personality come out in your presentation and to make it engaging for your audience.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
Record yourself giving your presentation. Focus on speaking clearly, loudly and with expression and on using appropriate body language. Watch your recording back – identify two things you did well and one thing you will improve the next time you do a presentation.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
I Spy Nouns
Nouns are places, names (of people and objects), and time (months or days of the week).

How many nouns can you find in the article? Can you sort them into places, names and time?

Pick three nouns and add an adjective (describing word) to the nouns.

Extra Reading in animals