Environmental enrichment is the process of providing stimulating environments for animals in order for them to demonstrate their species-typical behavior, to allow them exercise control or choice over their environment, and to enhance their well-being.
Enrichment include designing stimulating and naturalistic enclosures, bringing together appropriate social groups, and the introduction of objects, sounds, smells or other stimuli in the animal’s environment.
Environmental enrichment is just as critical to animal welfare as nutrition and veterinary medicine. At the National Zoo, enrichment is an integral part of the daily care of the species in our collection.
Under the watch of a trained observer, an object, such as a rubber dog toy, is introduced to the octopus. With each introduction, her behavior is recorded to identify the level of interaction with the object.
The Octopus Enrichment Program provides the giant Pacific octopus opportunities for exploration and interaction similar to that observed in the wild.
Octopus behavior data is recorded on an ethogram with each object introduction. Recording begins ten minutes prior to the object’s introduction and continues for two hours. Behaviors such as staying in place (clinging, arm movement), moving (arm walking, hanging in water), and jetting (hop, slam) are recorded at 30-second intervals initially and then at ten minute intervals to identify initial as well as residual interaction. Enrichment sessions are recorded on staff daily reports and behavior data sheets compiled in a database.
The continued use of an object is determined by the octopus’s qualitative and quantitative interaction with it. Discussions of the octopus enrichment occur weekly during unit meetings. Analysis of the behavior observation data will provide more detailed information. When planning the enrichment calendar for the month, the Invertebrate staff remove or add objects to the calendar. At the end of each four-week data collection segment observers are consulted for feedback.
Future program development plans include developing objects and puzzles that require more than one kind of manipulation to explore. In addition, creating physical changes with interchangeable internal surfaces and adding large interchangeable acrylic tunnels to annex the tank will be considered. The resulting observation data will begin to more definitively identify which objects and activity in and around the tank result in reactions that encourage exploration and enrich the octopus.
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