An Enriching Life
If you’ve ever walked around the ABQ BioPark Zoo and noticed a cardboard box or a toilet paper tube in a habitat, you may have thought zookeepers had just forgotten to clean up. But these items have a special purpose—enrichment. Learn more about the ABQ BioPark’s animal enrichment program in this article.
Q: What is enrichment?
Enrichment enhances the lives of animals at the zoo by providing them with mental and physical stimulation—this increases natural species-appropriate behaviors. Enrichment can include special food options, sounds, smells, toys and other items in their habitat.
Environmental and behavioral enrichment provides choice, change and complexity to zoo animals’ days, and the BioPark’s mission is to incorporate an environmental enrichment program that will provide for the psychological well-being and overall enhanced animal welfare environment for all BioPark animals.
Q: What are some examples of enrichment at the ABQ BioPark Zoo?
Animals may receive enrichment items like papier-mâché toys, frozen treats, painted boxes and more. Treats and toys are prepared especially for the animals by their zookeepers. Enrichment items are often enhanced with fruit, peanut butter, popcorn, meat or other food. Some animals enjoy certain smells, so zookeepers may add that smell to a box or other item in their habitat. For example, the BioPark’s jaguars enjoy the scent of cinnamon, so zookeepers sometimes put this spice inside a box to stimulate their sense of smell.
Case Study: Gorilla Enrichment
Boxes, toilet paper tubes and newspaper knots seem unlikely objects in a gorilla habitat, but they are important enrichment items and often contain food inside, which provides much-needed discovery opportunities for the gorillas.
Like many New Mexico residents, the gorillas like spicy food—one of their favorite special food items is oats sprinkled with cayenne pepper. Flavored ice treats are a tasty way to help them cool off during a hot Albuquerque summer day.
In the winter (when they spend more time indoors), the gorillas keep their minds active by interacting with more complex enrichment items and occasionally watching movies like “The Lion King.”
Whether providing special food, a movie or a new toy, zookeepers aim to create a variety of enrichment opportunities that will keep the gorillas entertained, happy and intellectually stimulated.
Images of the ABQ BioPark's Animal Enrichment Program.