Enrichment

Enrichment is an important part of the daily care we provide to our animals.  Enrichment is anything the zookeepers add to the animals’ environments to stimulate their senses and elicit natural behaviors such as foraging, exploration, hunting, problem solving, and even play.   Each species’ individual needs are considered when designing enrichment activities.

Our keepers use enrichment to keep animals healthy by encouraging physical activity and mental stimulation.  Some of the ways our animals are enriched include environmental, social, training, environmental enrichment devices, sensory and novel food.

 

_DSC0114We strive to meet the animals’ needs by providing an enriching environment every time we design an exhibit.  This includes different areas for them to do “species appropriate behaviors”.  A good example of this is our siamangs who are able to brachiate (swing arm over arm) on the tall enrichment structure in their exhibit.  At times we will also change parts of the enclosures to provide new opportunities to explore such as including new vines, adding new plants, rocks, and stumps or even new types of surfaces can be brought in or added to enclosures.

 

blakelyAll of our animals are kept in proper social groupings.  At times, animals are in what we call “mixed species exhibits”.  This means that they share space with other types of animals that they would encounter in the wild.  The interactions that happen between the different types of animals provide a lot of variety.

The Cincinnati Zoo knows how important Social Groupings for some species can be.  We strive to provide the correct social atmosphere for all of our animals.  Certain species thrive with social interaction.  This can be provided from the same species, such as our elephants, or it can also be provided from other species that have access to each other.  Sometimes the social needs of our animals can be met by the keeper staff and volunteers.  While other times it can be met from one species to another, such as Blakely the nursery dog, who helps to raise animals that have be brought up in the nursery.

wendyjohnlionTraining (Operant Conditioning): Interactions between the keepers and the animals through training is hugely enriching. Not only for the animals but also for their keepers too!  Training provides the animals with opportunities to learn and problem solve.  Proper training using positive reinforcement allows the animals and their keepers the ability to provide educational demonstrations around the zoo.  When you have the opportunity to experience our birds free flying in the Wings of Wonder show or the cheetahs running in the Cat Show, you are witnessing the results of hundreds of hours of training time.  Training also allows keepers to get a good look at their animals to ensure they are in good health and body condition.  Some of our animals are even trained to allow the vets examine them, draw blood, give vaccines, or perform ultrasounds.  By doing this, we not only enrich the animals, but also make sure they are in optimal health in a stress free way.

 

 

DJJAM photoInteractions between the keepers and the animals through training is hugely enriching. Not only for the animals but also for their keepers too!  Training provides the animals with opportunities to learn and problem solve.  Proper training using positive reinforcement allows the animals and their keepers the ability to provide educational demonstrations around the zoo.  When you have the opportunity to experience our birds free flying in the Wings of Wonder show or the cheetahs running in the Cat Show, you are witnessing the results of hundreds of hours of training time.  Training also allows keepers to get a good look at their animals to ensure they are in good health and body condition.  Some of our animals are even trained to allow the vets examine them, draw blood, give vaccines, or perform ultrasounds.  By doing this, we not only enrich the animals, but also make sure they are in optimal health in a stress free way.

 

 

Sensory enrichment allows animals the opportunity to use their senses, presenting them with new items to smell, touch, see, and hear (we’ll get to taste in the next section).  Many times keepers will spray perfumes or spread spices in the exhibit, thus encouraging the animals to use their nose to explore.  Other enrichments for the senses include playing various nature sounds, music, using different lights, or misting the animals to create a rain shower.

maiThe zoo has an entire department devoted to preparing the food for all of the animals.  Different types of foods are added to the animals’ diets to keep things interesting.  For our carnivores, this may mean that they get larger items such as bones, or whole prey items.  Other animals may get a wide variety of fruits or vegetables.  Many animals also enjoy munching on freshly cut browse, a tree branch with the leaves still attached.  They can spend a lot of time pulling off the leaves to eat, just as they would in the wild.

Health

tigerdentistThe Cincinnati Zoo has three vets on staff: Dr. Jenny Nollman, Dr. Greg Levens, and Dr. Mark Campbell. There are also two vet technicians; a nutritionist; and a part time medical records staff member.

Dr. Mark Campbell, Director of Animal Health, oversees the Animal Hospital and everything involving animal health with the Cincinnati Zoo animal collections. He cares for every animal at the Cincinnati Zoo including all of the invertebrates, mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and amphibians. See below for what a day in the life of a Cincinnati Zoo vet looks like!

How does the Zoo take care of so many animals?

Cub Exam StillThere is 7-day-a-week coverage at the Cincinnati Zoo Animal Hospital. Whoever is available and gets the call will treat that case. Some of the staff members prefer to work with some animals more than others, but everyone is well-rounded and experienced enough to know what is going on with every animal.

Every case is unique. Situations are judged on a case by case basis and discussed heavily with the keepers to make the judgment call on who and what equipment to send. Of course, all of that planning can go completely out the window in an instant if an emergency arises. At the end of the day, the three vets review everything that happened during their shift.  Conversations about difficult cases are held and they discuss plans for the upcoming schedule before they prepare for a new day.

What is the standard protocol to care for an animal?

  

bath_skinKeepers contact the Animal Hospital and provide known information about the case.  If the situation warrants, a vet will see the animal and assess how to go about treating them.

If the case deals with something like a goat, we can run routine tests (blood work, sonogram, etc.) fairly easily with the animal awake.  However, some animals, such as lions and tigers, must be anesthetized in order to treat them.  Thanks to our operant conditioning staff, anesthesia is no longer necessary for certain animals for routine procedures. Gorillas, orangutans, rhinos and even a polar bear have been trained to offer body parts for exams voluntarily! Currently, Western-lowland gorilla Anju is voluntarily getting ultrasounds to monitor her pregnancy.

Every morning hospital staff meet to figure out what the day will be, what procedures are scheduled, which animals need post-procedural checks (rechecks) and to discuss the cases as a team. Then cases are assigned and they head out!

Do animals have checkups? How often?

  

Animals do receive checkups and of course, exams are provided as needed. How often an animal is given an exam really depends on a variety of factors. It’s based on the risk of going in to treat the animal, the age and health status of the animal, whether or not anesthesia is needed, and other factors regarding the well-being of the animal.  Doing a checkup every single year on every animal is extremely aggressive and taxing on both the animal collection, which is around 1,600, and the hospital staff. If you do the math, that would be multiple routine exams every single day, not including other procedures.

For example, reptiles are given routine exams once a year. Bears and primates get routine exams every 2-4 years. Felines are treated every couple of years.

There is an entire Preventative Medicine Program that lays out guidelines and rules: how often should an animal have a routine exam compared to their health and age of animal. They outline the difficulty of anesthetizing and assessing the animal. Then records of every animal are kept and reviewed on a monthly basis.  For example, each month the Animal Hospital staff will sit down as a team and go over a list of animals that need to be reviewed for that month.

When animals leave or join the Cincinnati Zoo they automatically require a routine exam to ensure that they are healthy and cleared to mingle with our healthy animals. It is important to have a complete mark up of the animals we are bringing in and sending out to keep every animal safe and healthy. 

What does the process look like in the Animal Hospital when the Zoo brings on a new animal?

  

meerkatsWhen an animal is brought to their new home at the Cincinnati Zoo, they must first undergo a pre-transit exam at the sending institution. That institution ensures all of the animal’s health records are up to date, and then sends those records to the Cincinnati Zoo. The Cincinnati Zoo then works alongside the sending institution to come up with a plan for how to handle the animal and its health before and after it arrives at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Upon arrival, the animal enters a quarantine period, usually of 30 days. This is to isolate it from other animals in the collection that are known to be healthy. It also gives that new animal a chance to settle into our Zoo and its new home. During the quarantine period, they are switched from their old diet to our diet, the animal’s health and behaviors are observed, and they receive a routine exam and fecal exams. The animals in at the Cincinnati Zoo come from a variety of different sources, so the quarantine and examinations are especially important for those with a lack of medical history. Those animals require close observation because we value the animals we have and do not want to compromise the health of our resident animals.

 

Who are the most challenging patients?

  

bonoboDr. Campbell says that primates are the most challenging to work with because they are highly intelligent! He goes on to say, “They are like the smartest kid you’ll ever know. We try to medicate them and deal as much with their health while they’re awake as possible. But the primates do not like to take their medication orally and are intelligent enough to grasp the basics of what is going on, which can make treating them difficult.”

Are there ever scenarios where animals must be transferred for care?

  

tigerdentistAnimals have been taken off site for treatment but it doesn’t happen often. The Cincinnati Zoo Animal Hospital has state of the art facilities that make it not necessary to do many procedures off site. However, animals have been taken to the Ohio State University Vet School on a couple of occasions.  They are much more likely to bring doctors in if there is a procedure that needs extra attention, as opposed to taking the animals off site. This mostly has to do with the safety of the animal and staff in transporting the animal such a long distance. Luckily, Ohio is full of top rated medical professionals that help the Cincinnati Zoo with the animals, such as a dentist and vet surgeons.

Are keepers involved in animal care?

  

CREW Celebrates 30 Years of Saving Species with ScienceHouse calls for as many of the animals as possible. Doctors typically take all of the necessary equipment straight to the animal. If it’s a big cat, they especially try to do a house call on site. A lot of the equipment is at the hospital and doctors are more comfortable performing procedures there, so the risks of moving animals to the hospital are always considered when deciding details about the procedure. Safety takes priority—moving takes another 20 minutes.

Keepers will leave voicemails, emails or radio with any questions or concerns for their animals. Doctors start with them and use their extensive knowledge on the individual animals as a resource in deciding how to treat the animal. Each case is completely unique and keepers know best the behaviors of the animals in their collections.