Creating Enrichment

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!

Today we got an inside look into the types of enrichment animals receive at the Zoo. Enrichment is a process of improving or enhancing animal environments in order to bring out their natural behaviors. Types of enrichment include logs, branches, balls, rope, food, training, and even perfume. We were able to see an up-close example of enrichment and even create some items for the animals!

Yvette Kemp, Senior Hospital Keeper, explained the different kinds of enrichment provided for the animals at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park. Naturalistic means that the object looks like something from nature. Non-naturalistic items can include colorful balls, burlap sacks, and cardboard boxes. Every animal at the Zoo requires some form of enrichment, even if it's as simple as placing new item in the exhibit for the animal to explore.

A special guest stopped by to show us an up-close example of enrichment. Phu, a Bornean binturong (more commonly known as a bear cat), is an Animal Ambassador at the Zoo whose daily enrichment includes going for a walk. Phu is extremely active and keepers work hard trying to think of new ways to entertain him. Phu receives stuffed and other approved toys (like the toy lizard pictured above), branches and logs to climb on, and lots of activity on his walks to release some of his never-ending energy!

Interns had the opportunity to make enrichment items for some of the bears at the Zoo. Keepers are able to put in requests for enrichment items and the interns were more than happy to be able to help fulfill one of the requests!

The enrichment shed is full of materials to build enrichment items for the animals cardboard tubes, burlap sacks, paint, cardboard, glue and much more. Volunteers are also sure to remove any harmful objects like staples and tape before they use an item for enrichment purposes.


This cute little guy is a cardboard turtle. Keepers and volunteers have to be creative when making this type of enrichment because they can't attach the legs or head using tape. Painting cardboard is a convenient way to make a non-naturalistic item look somewhat naturalistic!


Kayla and Caroline painted realistic scenes of the Serengeti while the rest of us opted to paint our boxes one color and then add naturalistic pictures like flowers, suns, and clouds. Danni chose to paint a cardboard tube and made it look like a snake!

We passed by the polar bear exhibit and noticed a great example of enrichment. The polar bears’ attraction to bright colors has been proven through a keeper’s experiment where the polar bears chose to play with a colorful ball over a more muted-colored one.

Kerissa, Photo Team
Week Three, Winter Session 2012