Why Animals Do The Thing's first enrichment spotlight comes from the felines of Plumpton Park Zoo, a small privately-owned facility in Maryland that is currently working towards AZA accreditation. Plumpton Park only has three species of felines in their collection (bobcat, serval, and Bengal tiger) and their keepers are able to dedicate a large amount of time to developing creative enrichment strategies that keep them happy and fulfilled. They gave WADTT permission to spotlight some of their cats' favorite types of enrichment.
All of the cats at Plumpton Park Zoo came to the facility when their circumstances changed: Dakota the bobcat and Tex the serval were both rescued from pet homes, while Bengal tiger sisters Alexis and Miracle were taken in when their original zoo closed. Even though the smaller cats came from pet homes, keepers at Plumpton Park don't design enrichment with that in mind - their goal is to encourage the cats to engage in natural behaviors rather than those you'd expect from pets. All the cats get new enrichment daily and staff are careful to make sure that they change up the types of items they're providing daily to keep the cats engaged and curious.
In the header photo for this article, the bobcat named Dakota investigates a set of cardboard-and-paper wind-chimes set up in her enclosure. The wind-chimes are a novel type of enrichment and provide both visual and auditory stimulation. While they don't ring as loudly as their metal counterparts, the wind-chimes still make a unique noise as they move, and they're always fun for the cats to destroy once they're tired of watching the tubes dance in the breeze.
Credit for all photos in the article goes to K. McGrellis, used with Plumpton Park Zoo's permission.
Creative Colander Pinata Feeder
Puzzle feeders for felines are always difficult to design, as anything used must be able to withstand their teeth and claws - or they must be interesting enough to operate that the cats will engage with their design rather than choosing to destroy them. This unique puzzle feeder is comprised of two Betty Crocker colanders zip-tied together along the upper edge: meatballs inside can be smelled through the holes, but it must be manipulated with a deft paw until there is a large enough opening at the bottom that tasty morsels can be fall out or be snagged.
Bobcat Prey-less Predation Simulation
Burlap sacks are great items for both food and non-food enrichment, because they're strong enough to withstand some serious attacks by felines of all sizes. In this photo, Dakota is tearing into a suspended sack stuffed with crumpled newspaper (a great texture and sound) and bouillon cubes (a novel smell). Even without containing food, this hanging feeder simulates capturing and tearing into a fresh kill.
Bobacat Themed Holiday Feeder - A New Bowl
When designing enrichment it's just as important to consider how things are presented as what you're putting out. Even changing up how food is served - a different bowl, a new shape - can be a big change in an animal's day. For the Halloween season, Dakota's keepers decided to serve up her daily diet in a jack-o-lantern! The smell and texture of the plant made it a novel experience, and she got to interact with it more than she normally would a normal metal bowl.
Serval Enrichment: What Can't He Destroy?
Tex, Plumpton Park Zoo's resident serval, is an interesting animal to design enrichment for as he will compulsively ingest loose items in his exhibit; he's one of the only animals still in a concrete-floored enclosure, because he will eat any substrate provided to him. As a result, his enrichment is often highly innovative in order to keep him provided with novel items, and staff keep a very close eye on him when he's got enrichment he could potentially destroy and ingest.
In the photo above, he attacks a rubber snake that wasn't originally intended to be an enrichment item. After he killed a number of wild snakes that were foolish enough to venture into his exhibit, staff wondered if he might enjoy hunting one of the rubber snakes that staff kept on zoo grounds for their perpetual prank war. They sanitized one and presented it to him while observing from a distance, and it turned out to be highly successful - he stalked and captured it just like he would a live snake. He wasn't happy about giving up his hard-won prize at the end of the session, but eventually surrendered it to one of his keepers.
In the photos below, Tex hangs out with a kiddie pool full of different sizes of sturdy balls. This type of enrichment can be novel in many ways: it can make a unique texture to walk through, it can be used as a new bed, the balls can be fished out and chased or carried, and the different sizes of ball are novel because each ones requires the cat to move them around differently. Tennis balls are a great enrichment for Tex because it takes a couple of days for him to begin to tear into them - they require less supervision and are often removed as part of the regular cleaning schedule before he starts feeling destructive.
Bengal Tiger Tire Tower
This stack of tires was originally provided just to change up the landscape of the Bengal tiger exhibit and provide something new for the cats to scent mark, but Alexis turned out to be much more interested in it than her keepers expected - she spent a lot of time knocking it over and clawing all the tires. Large enrichment items like these tires help keep tigers active - even unintentionally - while simulating the experience of attacking large prey. Alexis loved this enrichment device so much that her keepers set it back up for her to destroy all over again! Her sister, Miracle, was utterly indifferent to it.