By Senior Primate Zookeeper, Denise Wagner

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums defines enrichment as a process to ensure the behavioral and physical needs of an animal are being met by providing opportunities for species-appropriate actions and choices.

That is to say, enrichment serves to deliver mental and physical stimulation that promotes healthy behavior. All of the animals that call the Phoenix Zoo home are provided with enrichment; however, primates tend to have the most complex and varied due to their remarkable intelligence.

It’s actually common for animals to “play,” especially the younger ones. Usually, this helps to hone survival skills. Kind of like when young cats stalk and pounce on each other, it prepares them for hunting as they grow older.

But did you know “play” can also be a sign an animal is very comfortable with its environment, and is great indicator of its overall welfare? Sometimes, though, young animals play just for the sake of playing!

Primates (like Jiwa, a Bornean orangutan) can be observed playing and interacting frequently with their environment. On a daily basis, Zookeepers provide multiple types of enrichment that primates can use to play – or engage – with their environment.

For primates, enrichment comes in many forms. It can be as simple as various objects they manipulate like balls or spools, but also far more complex such as discerning unique tastes and scents, auditory stimulation through different sounds, puzzle feeders to prolong foraging, access to different areas within their habitat and cognitive activities like training.

One such item the Zoo offers to many of our primates is a stainless steel mirror so they can look at themselves; many primates (including the Zoo’s orangutans) have been observed reacting to themselves in mirrors.

But our youngest orangutan, Jiwa, takes it to another level!

Like any youngster, he seems to enjoy making faces. He’s made faces at guests when they are interacting with him through the glass and he also makes faces when he’s looking at himself in mirrors. Recently, his keepers were lucky enough to catch his vast repertoire on video.

A cell phone was turned to selfie mode so Jiwa could see himself, and he started making faces. It’s clear from watching him that he is checking to see if the resulting reflection is, indeed, him by opening and closing his mouth, kissing the phone and wagging his tongue.

It was great enrichment for Jiwa, and his caregiver too!

Jiwa is the youngest of the five Bornean orangutans at the Zoo and will be three-years-old in September. Come visit them daily on our beautiful Tropics Trail.