Enrichment

June 21, 2016

A successful enrichment program is goal-oriented, self-sustaining, and integrated into the daily management of the animals.  Enrichment goals can include:

  1. Mental stimulation
  2. Physical stimulation
  3. Elicit species-specific appropriate behaviors
  4. Reduced sensitivity to stressful stimuli and variables
  5. Increase introduction to novel stimuli and situations
  6. Reduce stereotypic, atypical and self-harming behaviors
  7. Maintain dietary variance and providing complete nutrition

Enrichment goals should be species appropriate and should vary daily.  Variation in what is presented maintains a novel experience while satiating different needs for animals. Enrichment can be divided into 5 categories: physical, sensory, nutritional, social, and cognitive.

Physical: Enrichment that provides spatial variation and the opportunity for physical interaction and activity. Physical enrichment can include physical additions to the animal’s primary enclosure (toys), the opportunity for interaction in an area other than the primary enclosure ( access to other yards/novel space), and prompted exercise or physical exertion (walks/runs).

Toys

Cheetah enjoy toys of various sizes, depending on their personal preference.  Toys given to cheetahs should be sturdy enough to be manipulated by a large carnivore, such as boomer balls or spools.  Various companies specialize in creating toy enrichment for large carnivores, including:

Boomer ball 

Otto Environmental

Wildlife Toy Box

 cub-w-sm-ball        adult-w-lg-ball

Toys, such as balls, can be given at all life stages.

Exercise

Exercising is excellent cheetah enrichment, and is also critical to health management. Cheetahs can be trained to exercise on a lure coursing machine if there is sufficient space that can be accessed for lure coursing.  Many AZA facilities lure course their cheetah for visitor engagement, both on specialized designed tracks and in the cheetah’s exhibit space.  Cheetah can also be exercised via a zip line, interactions with their keeper/trainer or interactions with toys and/or conspecifics.

Cheetah Zip Line at the Aspinall Foundation

Cheetah Ball from the Oregon Zoo

Cheetah Run at the San Diego Wild Animal Park

 

Sensory: Enrichment items that appeal to the animals senses can include olfactory, tactile, visual, and if applicable auditory stimulation.

Nutritional: Animal wellbeing benefits from variations in their diet.  Also, the introduction of novel food items into the diet can promote animal interest/activity, satisfy nutrient requirements and decrease routine.

Novel food items

Cheetah enjoy various food items, including prey, bones and bloodsicles (frozen blood and water mix).  Each facility should connect with their designation nutritionist before providing novel food enrichment to their cheetahs.

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Cheetah Savanna enjoys a bloodsicle at the Cincinnati Zoo

Social: Social interaction and enrichment will vary depending on how individuals are housed.  Since cheetah are not social animals (with the exception of brother coalitions) social interaction can be implemented by cheetah caregivers via animal training and “keeper interaction”. Keeper interaction can include any interface that staff has with their collection: grooming, initiated play, physical attention, verbal attention, animal training, and prolonged  proximity  to animal areas.

Cognitive: Although all forms of enrichment are mentally stimulating for the animal, cognitive enrichment focuses on the animal’s memory, problem solving, decision making and reasoning abilities. Cognitive enrichment can include training sessions, puzzle feeders and/or lure coursing.