I realized this, too, in my enrichment study (see post, Puzzles for Tree Kangaroos). On the days that enrichment was provided in the morning, I would be more likely to observe interaction than if the enrichment was set out in the afternoon. However, most of the interaction with the enrichment items took place when I wasn’t even around. How do I know this? Well, before I would leave after a day’s observations, I would take a mental note of what the enrichment item looked like and where in the exhibit it was located. Then, as soon as I returned to the Zoo in the morning, for another day of observation, I would check out the wombat exhibit to see what the enrichment looked like after being left in the exhibit overnight.What I would usually find is that the enrichment item had not survived the night. In other words, the palm rolls would be in pieces spread throughout the exhibit, and the mulch piles would be decimated to a thin layer. I heard similar reports from keepers about the wallabies. I would observe little interaction during the day; however, overnight the wallabies would eat all of the food out of puzzle feeders and leave evidence (usually in the form of lots of poop) that they were spending quite a bit of time around the enrichment items. What does this mean for my enrichment study? I can confidently say that our marsupials ARE interacting with the enrichment. BUT, it is very important that we keep the nocturnal nature of these creatures in mind when providing them with these enrichments or challenges and give them the opportunity to have access to the items when they will be awake and ready to interact.
So, if you find yourself at an exhibit with sleepy animals, don’t be upset or discouraged! It would be very stressful for them to be pulling lots of “all day-ers,” so it is best for them to be active at similar times to when they would be in the wild.
I know it is disappointing, but this is the last marsupial enrichment post from me. I’m finishing up my internship and will be headed back to Idaho to finish my degree and graduate! Wish me luck, and don’t forget to visit the marsupials next time you venture to the San Diego Zoo!
Lauren Kline is a Bonner Summer Student Intern in the Behavioral Biology Division at the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research. We wish her the best of luck as she continues her studies!