The Smithsonian's National Zoo's enrichment program provides physically and mentally stimulating toys, activities and environments for all the Zoo’s animals. Enrichment allows animals to demonstrate their species-typical behavior, allows them exercise control or choice over their environment and enhances their well-being. Enrichment is just as essential to animal welfare as proper nutrition and veterinary care.
Enrichment often falls into one or more categories, such as:
- Habitat: Keepers can manipulate multiple aspects of the animals’ environment, such as adding trees, vines and perching, changing substrates, or providing new bedding and den options. This adds novelty and complexity to the animals’ lives.
- Cognitive: Positive reinforcement training sessions are excellent cognitive enrichment; it gives the animals a chance to exercise their minds. Participation in research projects offers mental stimulation (i.e., foraging skills research with giant pandas, memory research with orangutans, color vision tests with monitor lizards).
- 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: This is the most widely used form of enrichment. Keepers can present an animal’s normal diet as well as new food items in a variety of ways such as in a puzzle feeder, hidden, buried or scattered throughout the enclosure, or in frozen ice treats. It is important for the Zoo’s animals to work for their food, just as their wild counterparts do.
- Toys: These items can include burlap bags, sheets, boomer balls, chew toys or hammocks. Often, novel objects will be combined with food-related enrichment.
Make a Donation to the Enrichment Program!
Help enrich the lives of the Smithsonian's National Zoo's animals by making a donation to the Enrichment Giving Tree! Donations directly benefit the Zoo's animals and are used by the animal keepers to purchase enrichment items or materials. These items range from $15 for chew toys, kongs, and training tools; to $50 for indestructible puzzle feeders and bulk spices and scent extracts; to $500 or more for climbing structures and heavy-duty toys that will withstand play from larger animals such as elephants, tigers or bears. Your donation is greatly appreciated by both animals and their keepers!
Gifts of $250 or more will be recognized in Smithsonian Zoogoer magazine.