What Fun it is to B.E. Poking Around!
Written by Danielle, Behavioral Enrichment & Animal Welfare Coordinator
Behavioral Enrichment is a vital part of our keepers’ day, ensuring that the animals in their care have stimulation and opportunities to do what they do best, be themselves! All of our B.E. is purposeful, with specific goals and natural behaviors in mind. Choice for our animals is important and through their B.E., our animals are able to exercise control within their environment. But, B.E. is not one-size fits all. What works for one animal, may not work for another. For this reason, our staff are trained to make behavioral observations, evaluate our animals’ interactions, and be flexible in their work to cater to our animal’s needs. An animal’s natural history, individual history, exhibit setting, and management style are all factors that need to be considered when developing B.E. for them.
Coming to the Zoo is always a unique experience, but if you are lucky enough you may get to see our animals having unique experiences too! All animals at the Zoo are ambassadors for their wild counterparts, inspiring guests and encouraging participation in their conservation, but those that are part of Ambassador Animal Resources (AAR), are able to connect with guests in an up close and personal way through animal encounters. Our AAR team have daily shows where they educate guests about the animals in their care, as well as special encounters out in the park. You might just happen upon Kayamba, our Cape porcupine out for a stroll.
Not only is this a sight to see and a sound to hear (those quills sure rattle!), but it is incredibly beneficial for Kayamba to strut her stuff. This behavior was created by the AAR staff as a unique way to present Kayamba to the public, but during their training with her they quickly realized how much she enjoyed it, so now they use it as a crucial form of B.E. According to Sue T., Kayamba’s trainer, she enjoys exploring different areas and loves to run around. She walks alongside her trainer taking in all of the smells as she goes. She will stop to investigate certain things, but is mostly just taking in the sights! Kayamba is always on the move while out and about and can be seen receiving some of her diet as reinforcement for doing a good job.
Through the development of this behavior, they have also noticed a shift in her demeanor. Since going out for walks in the Zoo, or exploring different buildings around the park, Kayamba has been much calmer and patient with her caretakers during the day. This is an amazing example of the effects of B.E.! This behavior has also been used as a step in achieving a voluntary hands-on Body Condition Scoring (BCS), which is a method used to assess the state of the animal with regards to their weight and adjust diets accordingly to ensure that they are healthy! This is an amazing achievement. Any opportunity we have to have our animals participate in their health care makes a world of difference in our staff’s ability to care for the animal; less stressful for all around and can improve the ability to extend the animal’s life.
As mentioned before, B.E. is not one-size fits all. Each animal responds differently to new experiences and while Kayamba enjoys these excursions out on the harness, Kumari, the Indian crested porcupine, never showed the same interest. Kumari enjoys knowing exactly what to expect and no surprises and prefers a more hands-off approach with regards to her interactions with her trainers. While Kumari doesn’t enjoy walking on a harness, the staff find equally beneficial ways to stimulate her through B.E. This is a reminder that all animals respond differently and our staff works tirelessly to cater to their differences.
Have you been lucky enough to see Kayamba poking around on zoo grounds? If you don’t see her out in the park, you might have the opportunity to see this behavior as part of the show that takes place in the amphitheater. Make sure to keep a close eye out the next time you are here and stop in to say hello to the AAR staff at the next show!