sideview of river otter chewing on toy with treats hidden inside

The Road to Otter Health, part III

March 4, 2014

(Editor’s note: While Anang is off exhibit healing a broken bone we’re continuing to provide behind-the-scenes looks at what she’s doing to keep busy.)

If you’ve ever seen our otter exhibit, Otter Cove, or any of our bird exhibits for that matter, you might have noticed lots of “stuff” in them? Like small balls, logs, cardboard boxes, plastic animals, small pom poms, and blocks. We call these things enrichment.

What is enrichment? And why do we give enrichment? How on earth is a little box an enrichment? Well, let me tell you. Enrichment is a way to enhance animal environments, within the context of their own natural history. Changes to the exhibit are made with the goal of increasing animal’s behavioral choices, or giving them more to do.

So, for example, we give our Green Wing Macaw, Leo, boxes with treats inside. You might say, “wait, he wouldn’t get cardboard boxes out in the rainforest!” You’re right.  But, he would have to find his food inside of things or all over the rainforest. So, instead of just giving him a pile of food, we put some of it all over his cage so he has to forage for it. 

With Anang (or Haley as we call her), our North American River Otter, we try to give her things that will bring out natural behaviors. One thing she loves to do it groom, so we give her snow, sand, straw, excelsior, turf, and blankets of different fabrics. We rotate them so she doesn’t get sick of them. But, we also give her other things.  For example, today I gave her a dog kong. She really loves this purple kong. She has other kongs; red, green, pink, all of varying sizes and thickness, but the purple one is the favorite.

This morning I put one smelt into the kong, and she played with it for hours, seriously!

She took it in and out of the water and tried so hard to get that smelt!

She really liked my camera today, so she kept turning around to face it, and got super close.

 She thought maybe if she took it up on her little shelf she could get it out, but, no luck yet!
Trying so hard to get that smelt!
This one is my absolute favorite. (I am taking all of these through her holding bars, so that is why the angles and closeness are kind of strange!) This shows a great view of her super sharp claws and some of her whiskers. You can also see her cute little nose.