Animal Enrichment

The Smithsonian's National Zoo's enrichment program provides physically and mentally stimulating toys, activities and environments for our animals. Enrichment gives animals the opportunity to use their natural abilities and behaviors in new and exciting ways.

Any donation made through this site will benefit the Zoo's animals. Animal care staff will distribute enrichment items and funds based on greatest need.

Gifts of $250 or more will be recognized in Smithsonian Zoogoer magazine.


Examples include:

  • Art supplies
  • Puzzle feeders
  • PVC pipes
  • Tortoise training tools
  • Vulture training tools
  • Kongs

Examples include:

  • Heavy duty bungees
  • Boomer balls
  • Seal jolly balls
  • Amazing grazes
  • Feed tubs

Examples include:

  • Bobbin feeders
  • Drainage tubes
  • Tractor tires
  • Tire toys

Examples include:

  • Pill feeders
  • Tiger toys
  • Red panda climbing structures
  • Great ape amusements

Examples include:

  • Climbing trees
  • Elephant shade structures

What is Enrichment?

Enrichment and training are just as critical to animal welfare as proper nutrition and veterinary medicine.

By providing unique forms of stimulation, such as jolly balls, climbing structures, and training tools, animals are given a safe and creative outlet to demonstrate their species-typical behaviors. Along with naturalistic enclosures and proper socialization, these introduced objects, sounds, smells, and other stimuli enhance the Zoo animals' well-being.

The Zoo's keepers use operant conditioning to train the animals in our care. Operant conditioning centers around an animal choosing to participate in a behavior asked of it. Animals choose whether or not they want to participate in the training sessions. When an animal does the behavior, it is positively rewarded. There are no negative consequences of not participating. Training is based on trust and relationship building between the keeper and the animal. The goal of training is for the animals to participate in their own care by voluntarily allowing keepers to examine body parts, apply medications, or even draw blood.

Enrichment is provided in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Exhibit design:
    Provides a variety of landscape materials, heights, and complexities.
  • Training:
    Interaction with the keeper and learning new behaviors is cognitive enrichment; it gives the animals a chance to enrich their minds.
  • Sensory:
    A keeper can introduce natural predator or prey scents, in addition to novel smells. Taped sounds or vocalizations can simulate things that an animal may hear in the wild.
  • Food related:
    This is the most widely used form of enrichment. Keepers can present food in a variety of ways such as in a puzzle feeder, hidden or scattered throughout the enclosure, or buried. To get the food, the animal must use natural foraging behaviors and/or mentally solve the puzzle. Working for food is a natural part of the animal world!
  • Novel objects:
    Various items placed in an animal's enclosure allow the animal to mimic behaviors exhibited in the wild. These items include burlap bags, sheets, boomer balls, chew toys, or hammocks. Often novel objects will be combined with food-related enrichment. For example, sloth bears normally tear down termite mounds with their claws then suck up termites among a pile of dirt. To provide enrichment, keepers can place a closed burlap bag filled with wood shavings and treats in the sloth bear exhibit. The bears would then have to tear open the bag, just as they would the termite mound, and sort through the shavings to get to the treats.
  • Research:
    Participation in a research projects offers mental stimulation. (i.e., foraging skills research with giant pandas, cognitive research with orangutans).