Environmental Enrichment

In the last decade the concept of environmental or behavioral enrichment has become a widely used term for improving the lives of animals in captivity. EE is used to enhance the animals' quality of life and to simulate natural behavior. Various studies have shown that EE not only increases the animal activities, visitors also favor it. There is a wide variety of enrichments. First there has to be a thorough observation of the animal itself. Cats, who are predators, certainly are interested in different smells, maybe even dung of their natural prey. They also love to play - what could they use for playing? All items and changes in the exhibit have to be thoroughly examined for safety. The money issue should also be addressed. All this taken into consideration, environmental enrichment is beneficial to the animals and the human visitors alike.

In the Spring of 2000, Cat Life and Research Foundation (CLaRF) approached the animal curator of an established animal park in North Florida to work together on an enrichment program for the cats (and other animals) living there. The program we developed involved a group of approximately fifteen teenage students from local high schools. The students were assigned to different animals. The project involved researching the animals' natural history and learning about their behavior. Then the students came up with enrichment items that they fabricated. The animals were given the enrichment items always on the same day of the week over a period of 5 weeks. Evaluations of the animals' behavior with and without enrichment were part of the studies as well. For the cats we used 2 different scents, valerian and catnip. The scents were used on paper mache balls, stuffed with cat treats, like tuna jerky or dry cat food. A bright orange PVC tube (from a children playground), which was also scented, proved to be interesting. We also gave the cats frozen blood, which is especially appreciated on a hot summer day.

Just by looking at the photo, it is easy to see that the cat had fun! We are talking about a 15-year-old panther lady here! All the cats were occupied with the different items incessantly for at least fifteen minutes, sometimes even longer. Due to the short observation time, we certainly missed them coming back to the items and playing some more with them.All humans involved had a great deal of fun while learning a lot about the animals. With relatively little effort there are a variety of enrichment programs that can be done with students.