I always find it very interesting to see what people do to make them do what they do.
I mean there have to be a reason that reinforce them to do what they do. Some people are amazing at keeping themselves busy with many things. Some people are not at all and need each other to keep themselves occupied. We all have these friends who like to drink a glass of wine together on a rainy Thursday evening. However you look at it people make themselves busy with various tools.
I’ve have worked various zoological facilities around the world and it is just great to see the creativity people have to occupy themselves with. People take up craziest hobbies and entertainment, but how does this work in the animal kingdom? Specifically animals in human care who are not busy foraging all day long.
Throughout my career of training “mostly marine mammals” I’ve seen some amazing and crazy enrichment ideas from the keepers and trainers to make the animals day more interesting. I personally think it’s a kind of an art form to make the animals interested in various objects you try to challenge them with. At Kolmårdens Djurpark we have a wide range of creative trainers on our team and a great building room for us to create what we want.
Our main motto is to make enrichment without a connection towards food.
We believe that you can have enrichment in the exhibits for a week or so without making it habituation, we think that you give the animals the choice to play with the device that’s brought in the exhibit. Believe it or not, it works very well. As long as we are creative enough to change the device in such a way that it will be interesting for the animal again and again, but how do you do this is the question we ask ourselves. The last thing we want to do is throw devices away because the animals do not show any interest in these devices anymore.
We ask this question to ourselves and other trainers on the team. Let’s compare this towards human life, if a device keeps changing but it stays the same device the person will stay connected towards it for quite a while. For example, I’m a breakdancer and through practice and thinking of new movements it stays extremely enriching for me to keep doing this style of dance. I can spend hours practicing the same things sometimes even for weeks with just a small change here and there. As trainers we want to reflect this idea to the animals we work with in our care.
So how can we reflect this towards them… Since I was just talking about dancing and for myself I discovered that if I practice parts that could connect to each other in anyway I can keep going with sequences because they fit like puzzles pieces together. Puzzle pieces… they change all the time… as long as they connect to each other the same way… just like my dance moves. Well I just thought I’m going to share this idea with the group of trainers.
Our zoo tries to keep their exhibits as natural as possible so we as keepers and trainers have to adapt towards these rules for enrichment and exhibits changes. This gives us a challenge to become more creative. We work with marine mammals in our department so we decided like many other places let’s play around with algae.
We thought about carwash material, fire hoses, water hoses, buoy’s, tree’s and so on just to see what we can make from all of this. So our projects started. Now our main goal was to make it natural and make puzzle pieces so we can change the shape at all times.
This was a very tuff goal but it is a great way for our trainers to become more creative and for the animals to be more stimulated. The most crazy and great ideas come from our trainers.
With buoys, hoses, carwash material, dive bottles, rocks and a lot of ropes and hooks we are trying to make movable underwater kelp forest.
We installed trees with rings underwater where we can attach other devices onto and so on this which is great fun for the trainers and the animals. To come back to the peoples perspective, it even seems like that this way of working enriches the trainers in such a way that we are nonstop thinking about crazy fun and silly ideas what we can do for our animals to make their life more interesting.
To come back to the dancing part of this story, making puzzle pieces, now trainers are starting to think in a way about puzzle pieces. How can we attach this to that and how can we make this interesting for these animals and how can we challenge their exhibits and change the environments all the time without throwing devices away. It’s a great way of working and to be honest, maybe I enjoy it even more to work with trainers who become so crazy creative that they get excited on their own and share their enthusiasm about their new ideas! GO TEAM GO