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WNC Nature Center offers enrichment to all of their animals

Have you enjoyed a new book, video game, puzzle or even a new recipe lately?  That means you have enjoyed something called enrichment. Enrichment is anything new or different that is introduced to an environment that offers mental and physical stimulation. 

At the WNC Nature Center, we offer enrichment to all our animals, every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Enrichment for our animals can look like a dig tub full of pine straw and mealworms for our skunk, or sheep wool spread around the gray fox habitat. Enrichment looks different for each individual species depending on which natural behavior we are trying to stimulate, and each species has their own set of natural behaviors.

There are five categories of enrichment: 

Sensory, which is anything that stimulates the senses, such as spreading dried basil in the gray wolf habitat. They must use their sense of smell to explore this enrichment.

Food based, which is having the animal “work” to get their food. An example is spreading the bear’s produce portion of their diet all over their habitat so that they have to forage in order to find their food.

Manipulation, which is any sort of toy or puzzle that the animal can interact with, such as a giant ball for the cougar to bat and chase around his habitat.

Environmental, which is anything habitat based. This could be as simple as rearranging “furniture” in an animal’s habitat.

Behavioral, which could include training with a keeper or another social interaction. A great example of behavioral enrichment is walking our donkeys around the Nature Center to visit with the other animals.

To make enrichment even more exciting, keepers will often combine multiple types of enrichment, like rubbing a ball in tuna for the cougar or hiding pieces of trout in a paper bag for the otters. The center tracks how each animal interacts with their enrichment, so we can make sure we are giving them the best care possible. 

While the animal care technicians at the Nature Center are enrichment experts, there are things you can do at home to enrich your pets’ lives, too. If you have pet fish, try rearranging their tank or adding live plants. Cats love a cardboard toilet paper tube filled with treats and stuffed with tissue paper at each end. Try training your dog on some new tricks. Anytime you give a physical enrichment item, make sure to monitor your pet.

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