Enrichment is for Everybody

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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!

Have you ever seen those big, colorful balls in the Zoo’s polar bear exhibit? Did you think the balls were there to entertain the animals? Those balls are there for a reason. Yes, they do give the animals something to play with. But the bears are not just playing; they’re learning, training, and expressing their natural animal instincts. These toys are known as a type of enrichment, a way to improve or change an animals’ environment to encourage natural behaviors.

Yvette Kemp, a senior hospital keeper at the Zoo, works on improving the animals’ care with enrichment, giving the animals not only toys but also adding other things to their environment. Snow, for example, encourages behaviors in animals native to tundra habitats. By adding different smells to a habitat, such as a pile of leaves, animals can become interested for hours. Training is another form of enrichment. It helps the keepers with handling the animal, while also exposing the animal to different areas and new and exciting treats for a job well done. All of these are different forms of enrichment the animals receive at the Zoo.

Always wanting to work with animals, Ms. Kemp received a bachelor of science degree in animal behavior from Humboldt State University. She began her career at the San Diego Zoo in 1993 as an educator, giving tours. She later became a senior hospital keeper.

The most challenging aspect of  her job is keeping up with the never-ending list of caring for the animals. She honestly can not say there is anything she dislikes about what she does. She loves her job.

Yet, always trying to think of new, naturalistic enrichment for the animals can be hard. You need to know their natural history to find the right things that fit their particular needs. Enrichment ideas also have to get approved. Often, visiting keepers, Zoo staff, and members of the public who are observing the animals come up with some of the most creative ideas.

Crystal, Careers Team
Week Three, Winter Session 2012