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enrichment

27

A Little Switch

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A change of scenery will be enriching for active, curious Xiao Liwu.

On Friday our keepers decided to switch it up a bit for our panda bears (and for a particular tree); Xiao Liwu was moved into the first enclosure and Gao Gao moved to the “Keebler” side. This change of environment is nothing new to our bears (we do this every few months), and is a chance for guests and Panda Cam viewers to see some interesting behavior as the pandas get reacquainted with their new spot. Giant pandas are very good at scenting their territory, and when we are able to play “musical bears” we give them the chance to re-mark territory and exhibit some of those behaviors: scent marking in a handstand position as well as rubbing on trees and even on the ground. Not only is this fun for our guests to observe, it is a good behavior for our bears to express. Changing locations is a novel enrichment experience for the pandas.

The switch last week also gave our staff a chance to check out the little elm tree that Mr. Wu was exposing. For those of you who haven’t seen that particular enclosure over the years, it has gone through a few trees in its day. The first tree in the exhibit was knocked over by Su Lin, born in 2005. Luckily, nothing was damaged and we were able to secure her and the tree so that she could continue to use it as a climbing structure. We were then gifted with a young elm tree that Yun Zi (born 2009) tore apart during one of his many energy bursts. Shortly after that, we acquired the elm currently in the exhibit. We did our best to secure it so that the tree might stand a chance against a young, rowdy bear. So yesterday when our keepers discovered that little Mr. Wu had torn the plastic covering off the elm, they moved Gao Gao into the exhibit knowing that he probably wouldn’t destroy the tree.

Over the past ten years, I’ve watched cubs go through the many stages of adolescence, and they can be very destructive. The cubs learn how strong they are and like to test boundaries. And never forget how smart bears are and how curious they can be. As keepers, our job is to make sure that these bears go through these stages safely. For our researchers, this is a busy time watching and noting the many changes going on with our bears. This can often be fun for the observers as they watch the bears be a little silly and try out their abilities.

So while our staff does their best to restore the tree’s protective covering, enjoy watching the bears in a new—yet familiar—environment. Also keep an eye out for some smelling behaviors; after every storm I think we get some of the most fascinating behaviors from all of our animals as they investigate all the new smells kicked into the air.

Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Thunder and Lightning.

Monitor’s note: We have recently updated our Blog Comment Policy. We ask that comments stay focused on the topic of the blog or what you observe on Panda Cam rather than animals or events at other institutions. Thank you!

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African Serval Kittens and Mother Play, Pounce at the San Diego Zoo

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A male two-month-old African serval kitten plays with one of his new enrihment items at the San Diego Zoo this morning.

Three African servals were doing what cats do best this morning at the San Diego Zoo—pouncing, digging, hunting and sleeping. The mother, Onshe, and her two cubs (who have not yet been named) received their daily enrichment, with a few extra treats thrown in. In addition to new piles of mulch, the cats were given carved, painted gourds covered with different scents from food seasonings. They were also given a few pinecones filled with paper and skin shed from a snake. The enrichment items, created by the Zoo’s “Epic Teen” summer camp participants, were designed to encourage the animals’ natural foraging and investigative behaviors.

The male and female servals were born on May 13. While they’re the same size and weight, keepers are able to tell them apart by the pink spot on the male kitten’s nose—the female’s nose is solid black. The serval kittens are still being nursed by their mom, but they are starting to try solid food, when their mother shares her carnivore diet with them. As they mature, they are becoming more adventurous—and are venturing farther and higher from their mother in the exhibit, as they test their ability to climb and jump. Guests visiting the San Diego Zoo can find the trio of servals in the Rock Kopje area on Front Street.

The San Diego Zoo is hosting Nighttime Zoo, presented by Cymer, now through Labor Day, Sept. 7. During this special event, guests can stay in the Zoo until 9 p.m. and experience toe-tapping, body-moving music in a variety of sounds and styles throughout the afternoon and evening—including rock tunes through the decades, festive mariachi melodies, a brass band and even a cappella harmonies. The Zoo has also added a 15,500-square-foot exhibit for Asian leopards that is the new entrance to the Barlin-Kahn Family Panda Trek. All Nighttime Zoo activities and entertainment are included with admission to the San Diego Zoo.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on July 17, 2015 by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291

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Grizzly Bears Wrestle in Snow at the San Diego Zoo

Grizzly bear brothers Scout and Montana enjoyed a "snow day" recently at the San Diego Zoo.

Grizzly bear brothers Scout and Montana enjoyed a “snow day” recently at the San Diego Zoo.

Grizzly bears Montana and Scout received a cool surprise when they were released into the exhibit Saturday morning at the San Diego Zoo. Everything in their habitat was covered in snow, given to them as a gift from a donor. The bear brothers were hesitant at first but quickly warmed up to the experience by wrestling, running and a lot of digging.

The San Diego Zoo’s 8-year-old grizzly bear brothers have been at the San Diego Zoo since 2007 and have a reputation for being playful. Snow is just one of the many items provided as an enrichment activity for exploring and foraging.

It was once thought that there were 86 different kinds of grizzlies and brown bears in North America alone. Today, scientists agree that there is only one species of brown bear with 6 recognized subspecies. Brown bears in interior North America are known as grizzly bears because their brown fur is tipped with white or tan; the word “grizzly” means “sprinkled or streaked with gray.”

Photo taken May 2, 2015, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Heartfelt Thanks to Our Invaluable and Inspiring Volunteers

San Diego Zoo Global Volunteers recently marked one million hours of service. They truly light up our lives—and the lives of the animals and plants at both the Zoo and the Safari Park!

San Diego Zoo Global Volunteers recently marked one million hours of service. They truly light up our lives—and the lives of the animals and plants at both the Zoo and the Safari Park!

April 12- 18 is National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and in the spirit of the celebration, we want to shout out to the world how truly invaluable and inspiring San Diego Zoo Global’s volunteers are. At the current time, we have over 1200 active volunteers in our system, but over the course of the year that often swells to over 2,000. The ebb and flow comes as extra help is requested for an event or fieldwork—and we always have eager hands ready to help. These amazing people give freely of their energy, expertise, and time—we recently hit one million hours of recorded service!

Our gifted volunteers support all of the staff, from keepers to educators to researchers and beyond! They make enrichment items for the animals, strip the bamboo used to make giant panda bread for Gao Gao, answer “Dear San Diego Zoo” letters from children around the world, help guests find their way at the Zoo and the Park (and give them information that makes their visit even more enjoyable), and more. And if you are one of the 16 million viewers that love our live animal cams, you have volunteers to thank for finding and zooming in on the special moments you can’t see anywhere else.

The dictionary defines the word dedicated as having very strong support for or loyalty to a person, group, or cause. And that certainly describes our volunteers, who freely engage in San Diego Zoo Global’s mission and vision to end extinction. “Words cannot describe how amazing our volunteers are,” says Tammy Rach, Senior Manager, Volunteer Services. “SDZG Volunteers support all of our staff, engage in our mission and vision, and greatly improve the guest experience. They also contribute ideas and funds in support of our conservation efforts, and share their passion and dedication throughout the community with everyone they encounter.”

Through their dedication, energy, and commitment, San Diego Zoo Global volunteers are both invaluable and inspirational. They are truly heroes for wildlife!

To learn more about becoming a San Diego Zoo Global Volunteer, click here.

Wendy Perkins is a staff writer and blog monitor for San Diego Zoo Global.

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Springtime for Polar Bears

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Logs of all sizes are one of the enrichment items keepers provide for our polar bears.

Another breeding season has come and gone for our polar bears. Chinook and Kalluk bred this year in February, so the waiting game begins once again.

Sometime in late September or early October Chinook will be brought inside and given access to her private air-conditioned den where she will hopefully rear her first cubs. She has already started to show signs that she wants some “alone time,” so on most days you will see her on exhibit in the morning and in the “polar bear penthouse” in the afternoon where she has her own private pool! If you take a look behind the exhibit on the far left you may be able to get a glimpse of her through the pine trees.

Kalluk is just now starting to come out of his annual post-breeding season malaise and is once again playing with his sister Tatqiq. They have been wrestling both on land and in the pool!

The keepers are hard at work providing as much novel enrichment as possible for the bears. If you have been watching our Polar Bear Cam recently, you may have seen interesting things like a log-and-palm-frond shelter, foraging piles, and burlap sack “seals”. The bears love it when they tear into a “seal” and find things like favorite toys, bones, and melons. In the near future we hope to bring in a crane to move around the large logs and root balls in the exhibit as well as bring in new furniture. It is the goal of the Polar Team to provide a dynamic and ever-changing space for our bears. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a snow day sometime in the next couple of months!

We invite you to come down to see what the bears are up to!

Matthew Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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San Diego Zoo Gives Enrichment Wreaths to Meerkats

Meerkat WreathA meerkat sits in the middle of a wreath inside its enclosure this morning at the San Diego Zoo. The wreath was one of four made by animal care staff, crafted from lavender star plants grown at the Zoo and accented with a bow created from a part of a palm tree. The other wreaths sported red hibiscus flowers. All were “trimmed” with mealworms, which is part of the meerkats’ usual diet.

The wreath enrichment was created to encourage the six meerkats’ natural behavior to dig, forage and explore. Meerkats live in underground burrows in large groups called a mob. Meerkats have long claws to help them dig their burrows and to uncover food. They have a special membrane that covers the eye to protect it from dirt and rocks while they burrow. They also have ears that can close to keep out soil when digging.

There are wreaths and lights decorating the entire San Diego Zoo during the annual Jungle Bells celebration, presented by California Coast Credit Union. The holiday event runs now through Jan. 4, 2015, with the exception of Dec. 24, and is free with paid admission or membership to the San Diego Zoo. Visit www.sandiegozoo.org/junglebells for a schedule of other activities and more information about Jungle Bells.

Photo taken on Dec.15, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.

CONTACT: SAN DIEGO ZOO GLOBAL PUBLIC RELATIONS, 619-685-3291
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Scents for Polar Bears

Kalluk thinks snow is the PERFECT enrichment for polar bears!

Kalluk thinks snow is the PERFECT enrichment for polar bears!

Lions and tigers love perfume and giant pandas enjoy the smell of cinnamon, but do the San Diego Zoo’s polar bears get a kick out of scent enrichment, too? Keeper Matt Price explained to me that although our Arctic bruins have impressive sniffers, they don’t go all crazy rubbing around in smelly things like some critters do!

Keepers do have an impressive arsenal of scents on hand for the animals in their care. Various perfumes, essential oils, spices, and even synthetic urine from other species are used from time to time to give our Zoo animals something different to experience, investigate, or delight in. The big cats and pandas roll around in the scent, seemingly trying to spread it all over their body. But the polar bears’ reaction is different: they give the new smell a good sniff and then go on with whatever activity they were doing—no big deal! So instead, Matt or his fellow keepers make a scent trail that leads the bear to a big payoff—an extra-special food treat or new toy. The bear follows the smell to the prize!

There is one type of scent enrichment that DOES get more of a reaction from our polar bears: camel and llama hair. Keepers collect the shed hair and place it in small piles for the bears, who roll around in it with great gusto!

Debbie Andreen is an editor for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Gao Gao: Class Clown.

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An Enriched Elephant Herd

The kids enjoy an early-morning pool party.

The kids enjoy an early-morning pool party.

As chronicled in my last post, Tracking Safari Park Elephants, both keepers and researchers consistently strive to improve the welfare of our elephants at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. One such way we can enhance welfare is through the use of enrichment. Enrichment provides our elephants with opportunities to engage in species-appropriate behaviors. Making changes to their social groupings, along with providing more variety in the types and amounts of browse food items given, has proved extremely beneficial. The separation and reuniting of individuals from yard to yard encourages heightened levels of social behavior. Access to bodies of water can encourage everything from taking a simple drink to providing a good place to cool off, and is occasionally a great venue for a full-on pool party!

Vus'Musi and Msholo spar.

Vus’musi and Msholo spar.

Our overarching aim is to maintain a high diversity of positive naturalistic behaviors: we want our elephants to be elephants, and it takes a lot of work to ensure they receive those opportunities. Every morning, keepers go over the plan for the day, and that plan always involves some type of enrichment. One of my personal favorites is when a fresh mud bog is made in the west yard, a task that requires much skill to produce the perfect consistency of mud. The elephants then get to spend the day wallowing, playing, and cooling off in it. Feeder puzzles are another fun device. Some are round while some are rectangular, and all are filled with alfalfa pellets or fresh hay. To get to the food product inside, the elephants have to kick, push, and use their heads (literally and figuratively!), all of which provides them with both mental and physical stimulation while satisfying their appetite.

Swazi reaches up to a hay pile above her head with Msholo, Mac, Emanti, Kami, and Qinisa nearby.

Swazi reaches up to a hay pile above her head with Msholo, Mac, Emanti, Kami, and Qinisa nearby.

Because enrichment is deployed every day, creative minds have to band together to keep the environment as unpredictable as possible. One recent example of this is the variety of produce that is now being introduced (such as romaine lettuce, cucumbers, and celery) to go along with the alfalfa pellets that the elephants receive. Another example is the frequent change in placement of common enrichment products. The Boomer Ball that was previously in the east yard may show up the next day in the pool of the west yard. Even celebrating the birthday of an elephant switches up the herd’s diet and overall schedule, and because it doesn’t happen every day, it is also a very enriching event.

There are many ways to keep the elephants both mentally and physically engaged with their environment, but all require teamwork, scattered scheduling, and creative minds. The next time you’re watching Elephant Cam or visiting our African elephant herd at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, keep an eye out for any interesting behaviors or interactions resulting from our enrichment efforts. Maybe M’sholo and Vus’musi will be playing in the pool. Perhaps Kami will be kicking around a feeder puzzle, or Swazi will munch on some alfalfa hay. Whichever behaviors you observe, you’ll be witnessing the results of our efforts to ensure that our herd is fully enriched!

Charlotte Hacker is a research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

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Orangutans: Why the Burlap?

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

Satu sits slightly down with a piece of burlap over his head; Indah lies in a hammock completely covered by burlap, and Karen has a burlap bag clutched in her foot as she does somersaults in front of the glass. What’s up with the burlap? Burlap is one of the enrichment items we give the orangutans on exhibit. If you have spent anytime at the San Diego Zoo, you probably have heard of enrichment. Enrichment basically refers to anything given to the animals that will increase their activity both physically and mentally.

When animals are on exhibit, we are limited to items that are natural in appearance, and with orangutans, we are limited further to items that are “orangutan proof.” Orangutans are intelligent, strong, and creative animals. Great care has to be given so that individuals cannot hurt themselves, destroy the items, or, more likely, use the item as a tool for mischief.

In addition to the burlap, pinecones, gourds, bamboo, browse, and palm fronds are enrichment items we commonly use on exhibit. We try to give them items that will encourage natural behaviors. Orangutans are arboreal mammals from the rain forest. They use branches and large fronds to protect themselves from the rain and sun. We give them burlap, browse, and palm fronds to mimic this behavior. We put treats and smears in and on the pinecones, gourds, and bamboo to encourage foraging behaviors and tool use. We have a simulated termite mound in the exhibit, which, of course, does not contain ants or termites but different sauces. It is not so important what is in the termite mound but that they use tools to extract what they want out of it.

Tool use is a learned behavior passed from mother to offspring. We saw Indah actively teaching Cinta to use the termite mound, and it will be great to see her do the same with her newest baby, Aisha. Different groups have different tool use methods, and even individuals have a preference when it comes to extracting the enrichment. When we give bamboo cups with gelatin inside, Satu likes to use his strong jaws and teeth to just break it open, Cinta would pound it on rocks and knock out the gelatin, while Karen uses a small stick to get the good stuff.

You will also notice when you look at the exhibit that there are large, plastic items hung on ropes. While they are not natural looking, they fulfill the other requirement: they are orangutan proof. We use these as permanent enrichment items in the exhibit. In addition to the animals using them to swing and play with, we also put food items inside periodically. As a result, the orangutans check them every day. This increases their activity level, but it also mimics a natural behavior. Orangutans have a mental map of the rain forest: where the fruiting trees are located, and what is edible. They remember where they found food in the past and return to it later.

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Aisha at 5 Months.

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Big Cat Preferences, Part 3

Thanks to our dedicated animal care staff, we have now completed all the initial preference trials (see Big Cat Preferences and Big Cat Preferences, Part 2) with lions, tigers, and cheetahs. Our findings reveal that there are both species and individual differences in enrichment preference, which will help us make educated decisions when providing enrichment for our felids. Ensuring the highest quality of care for every animal in the collection is our top priority, and this is just one project leading toward that goal.

The next phase of this project is being completed by Erin Lane, our Neeper Endowed Fellow, with the assistance of some of our wonderful volunteers. The project includes examining the effects of enrichment (scents and objects) on the 24-hour behavior of lions. We have installed cameras throughout the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s lion exhibit to observe what the effects of the enrichment are both during the day and at night. This will also provide some insight into the activity budgets of the animals. For example, throughout the day a person might spend about 8 hours sleeping (33%), 1 hour commuting to and from work (4.2%), 9 hours working (37.5%), 2 hours cooking/eating (8.3%), 3 hours watching tv (12.5%), and 1 hour exercising (4.2%). We want to know what percentage of time the lions eat, sleep, rest, socialize, and play. This information will help us make sure that our enrichment program is keeping the animals active and healthy.

We will also be recording different behaviors such as scent marking, sniffing, and clawing to make sure we are providing opportunities for these behaviors, which are part of their natural behavior. Keep in mind that lions in the wild typically sleep between 16 and 20 hours a day (66.6% to 83.3%), and we hope our lions spend their time in a similar fashion. If you have been to the Safari Park’s Lion Camp before, you probably already know that they spend a good portion of their time sleeping just the way a lion should. The question is: how much?

Lance Miller is a scientist for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.