Report 2000

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. Zoos and animal parks everywhere experimented with environmental enrichment (EE) and conducted scientific studies about the effects on their animals.

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, it also is favored by visitors. They learn more about the specific animal by actually observing some of the natural behaviors displayed with enrichment items.

There is a wide variety of enrichments. First there has to be a thorough observation of the animal itself: is the animal prey or predator, what does the animal eat and how does it normally look for food, what are the sleeping habits etc. After these behaviors have been recorded the big question arises: what can be done to make life for the animal more interesting, increase activity, promote natural behavior.

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: could the animal get entangled in it, would it be harmful if swallowed, etc. Then there is a more general question: some zoos make it their policy not to use artificial items, such as plastic toys. The money issue should also be addressed. Most items don't cost much, but some more sophisticated contraptions might involve a lot of work and money; for instance, if a zoo wanted to build an elaborate "prey-moving-device".

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 The Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science 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 had hours set aside for this science study. At the end they gave a presentation of their work. 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 enrichments items which 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 their studies as well.

For the cats we used the following items:

  • 2 different scents: valerian and catnip
  • scented paper mache balls and stuffed with cat treats
  • frozen blood
  • a bright orange PVC tube (from a children playground), scented

    All these items were easy to make or to get. The tube was a donation, the prices for the scents ranges from 3.00$ to 10$ for a little bottle, which lasts a long time. The blood was collected from meat and frozen in cheap plastic containers. For the paper mache balls the students used unprinted paper from the local newspaper printer. To form the balls, balloons are blown up which after the ball has dried are taken out. Instead some tuna jerky or other cat treats are placed inside the hollow ball.
  • Enrichment

    Enrichment Evaluation Form
    Animal Park North Florida
    Animal: Female Florida Panther, 15 years old
    Enrichment Item: Papermache-ball, stuffed with treats
    Time/Weather: 11/20/00, 10:50 a.m., overcast, hot and humid
    Observers: Student from enrichment team.
    Time until first contact: 5 sec.
    Time spent w/ item: 15 min
    Observation time: 15 min
    Scent used on ball: Catnip
    The Panther approached the ball right away, sniffed and licked it - she made the 'flehmen' grimasse at it. Then she batted it around, pounced on it, bit the ball = she displayed a variety of prey behaviors. At the end of the 15 minutes, she just tore the ball apart and ate the treats hidden inside.

    Enrichment Evaluation Form
    Animal Park North Florida
    Animal: 3 Bobcats, 1m 2f
    Enrichment Item: frozen blood, "Bloodsicle"
    Time/Weather: 11/27/00, sunny and cool
    Observers: Student from enrichment team.
    Time until first contact: 10 sec.
    Time spent w/ item: 4 min
    Observation time: 15 min
    Scent used on ball: none
    One of the male bobcats approached the bloodsicle almost at once. He sniffed at it, went away, came back, sniffed it again and buried it under a pile of leaves. Then the other male Bobcat came. The first one tried to keep the second one away, there was some growling involved. After about 3 minutes, the first Bobcat went away, and the second one sniffed at the bloodsicle. This pattern went on for several minutes: one came, sniffed, licked, went away. Then the other one did the same. The female Bobcat, who is believed to be about 18 years old, was sleeping on a tree the entire time.

    The two Florida Panther kittens, one male and one female, were our "control group": if they didn't play with one of the enrichment items, then nobody else would either! At the time of this enrichment project the kittens were about seven months old.
    Just by looking at the photos, it is easy to see that the cats had fun! They 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.

    Notable is that the panthers, who are all used to humans, displayed a more easygoing approach to all the items. The bobcats, on the other hand, who have been abused before they came to the Animal Park, were not so easily tempted. This observation certainly remains open for discussion. Another topic for further interest would be the comparison between the male and female panther kittens. The male showed a much more risk-taking behavior by jumping right up to the various items, whereas the female however was more timid and cautious.

    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 things which can be done with students. An enrichment program on a regular basis would be interesting for visitors as well. Appropriate explanations given in showcases, boards, interactive games, etc. would educate adults and children about the different animals and their natural behavior.

    Other Activities
    In addition to the enrichment project at The Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science (s. previous pages), CLaRF helped transport the two panther kittens to their new home. They are from Central Florida, so it was a 500 miles round trip to get them. On the way back we played a CD from Mozart, whose music the kittens obviously enjoyed very much. As soon as the trip started the cats settled down in their carriers and stayed calm during the entire drive.

    In their new home: the male Florida Panther kitten (left) and his sister (right).

    Nobody survives without paperwork and administrative stuff: In 2000 CLaRF established the Articles of Incorporation in Florida and applied for a tax-exempt status.

    We are also currently working on our web site. Among current information about the foundations' activities and projects the web site features gift items such as jewelry. All sale profits go toward the foundation. There is also an information brochure available and a line of commercial products - mugs, pens and notepads. Proceeds from sales also go toward CLaRF.

    Cat Life and Research Foundation has made a donation to a sanctuary in Colorado, Prairie Wind Animal Refuge. The donation paid for two months of cat food. Up until Spring 2000 the sanctuary got their animal food donated by a meat processing company. Then the company changed owner, and the new owner decided to want money for the food. Prairie Wind has thirty-three big cats, six of them are youngsters.

    We are hoping to be able to help them again in the future.
    Outlook 2001
    In 2001 Cat Life and Research Foundation plans to get fully registered as a tax-exempt, non-profit corporation in the US. This certainly means there will be more paperwork to be filled out and filed.

    ClaRF hopes to get the web site going in the next few months. A PR-mailing is scheduled for late spring to get the word out about our new cat organization. In addition to that CLaRF will work on fundraising.

    Two of the directors are going to Africa in early Spring. There will be a lot of opportunities for future contacts with cat organizations in Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.

    Initial contact has been made to a Big Cat Rescue Organization in Germany. We will continue to get to know them.

    All in all, it seems the year 2001 will be a busy one.
    To all friends of Cat Life and Research Foundation a big THANK YOU for your interest and your help. May the coming year be a good one for all of us.

    Cat Life Foundation
    P.O. Box 16126
    Tallahassee, FL 32317-6126
    Phone: (850) 491-1300
    Web Site: