The Secret Life of the Zoo 10/01/2016

Encouraging natural behaviour

Every effort goes into ensuring the highest standards of wellbeing and the best care is given to all our animals, from the tiny snails to the tall giraffes!

Animal enrichment is an important part of the work our science and animal care teams do to make sure the amazing animals we have here at Chester Zoo remain healthy – both physically and mentally. Enrichment involves any change to an animal’s life or environment which is beneficial to their well-being and provides naturalistic behaviour opportunities.

We make sure that the enrichment we use for any of the animals encourages a wild behaviour, such as hunting, sleeping, swimming, scent marking and foraging.

There are different methods from physical to social. For example, it could be a change to the animal habitat, like a different type of climbing or swinging equipment for our primates.

Orangutan in Islands at Chester Zoo

Or it could be related to food by creating a ‘puzzle feeder’ so animals have to work for their food as they would in the wild. Not only do the keepers think about what and when to feed the animals, they also need to think about how.

Animal enrichment at Chester Zoo
Enrichment at Chester Zoo

Another method could be designed to stimulate an animal’s senses and keep their surroundings really interesting for them; similar to what we do with our Komodo dragons.

The main aim is to encourage natural feeding and foraging behaviours and lead to improved or enhanced well-being.

Enrichment is a growing scientific field and both researchers and animal keepers work together to create devices, but most importantly, are dedicated in monitoring how they’re working. We measure the successes of our enrichment methods by studying animal behaviour; discover more about animal behaviour here.

Next time you’re at the zoo and see something a little different in the animal habitat – like a ball with the elephants, or the chimpanzees eating an ice lolly - remember there’s an important reason behind it being there. See if you can work out what type of behaviour that is being encouraged.