Enrichment is the ultimate tool to encourage natural behaviours in existing captive habitats. But enrichment is only effective when you have lots of it. With other words, enrichment is only useful when you create change and variety. So when you want to stimulate natural behavioural diversity, you need many enrichment items. And that is a challenge. At least I’ve seen the use of the same enrichment device almost every day, haven’t you? Enrichment availability is a limiting factor in many zoos to create this change and variety. So when you want to make an extensive enrichment program, we need to build enrichment. A heck of a lot of enrichment! But there are ways you don’t have to do that alone. There are ways to make it easier to build a huge amount of enrichment. And one awesome idea is to plan an enrichment build day at the zoo!
Why should you plan an enrichment build day? When you plan an enrichment build day, you can make a lot of enrichment devices with the help of zoo staff, visitors and companies. Well-designed and proven items can be duplicated to many, so you can easily enrich countless animals effectively. Moreover, it is a unique chance to educate zoo guests about something we do every day: Enrichment!
There are three main focus areas you can create an enrichment build day for, all with the common main goal to increase the collection of enrichment devices and therefor improve animal behavioural welfare.
Enrichment build day with zoo staff
The simplest form of an enrichment build day is to do it with the help of zoo staff. When you combine forces of all zookeepers and other zoo staff you can make a lot of enrichment in one day. Now the challenge is that most zookeepers need to work to take care of the animals and can not pause their job for one day. But when you plan the event in the afternoon or evening, most people can attend, right? To make the most of it, it would be great to involve all areas of the zoo. Not only zookeepers but other departments such as horticulture, technicians, marketing, education management, and volunteers as well. Make it sociable with music, drinks and snacks, so everyone has a great time. It is the perfect time to catch up with colleagues that you don’t see that often. An E-day can bring staff together for a common goal: improve the welfare of animals in the zoo. But besides, the knowledge and expertise of different departments can be of enormous value for this event and the resulting enrichment. Other departments can suggest things that we as zookeepers don’t think of. A successful E-day is a perfect trial run when you want to set up public enrichment activities and gives ideas on how to develop an enrichment build day with zoo visitors.
Enrichment build day with visitors
Another engaging way to create opportunities for building more enrichment is to plan an enrichment build day for zoo visitors. With the help of zoo visitors, you can easily make substantial well-proven enrichment devices to enrich more animals effectively. While it is a great way to get more enrichment, it also offers other unique opportunities. When visitors are helping hands-on with enrichment, you can educate these people as well. You can teach them about why enrichment is important and why you need these enrichment items. Discuss how science is used and proves how good enrichment is to enclosed animals, and how these enrichment items improve animal welfare. Many people love to participate in events that reflect the work of zookeepers. Think of popular programs such a ‘keeper for a day’ or ‘sleeping at the zoo’. I’ve seen very well-received children’s parties where kids can do small jobs together with zookeepers. And zoo guest like to contribute to the animals’ welfare too.
Enrichment build day with companies
A way to increase (local) community involvement is planning an enrichment build day with (local) companies. This E-day can be an event like above where companies are invited to participate. However, it can also be a teambuilding program where teams or whole companies can participate in enrichment activities. This activity can be seen as a business event which is ‘bought’ by a certain company. Team Building with BITE is a great example of the latter and is unique in creating these enrichment events and workshops for companies. On the one hand, it is enjoyable and educative for teams. On the other hand, it is a very welcome help for zoos. But as a zoo, you can also create such an event yourself. For example, to strengthen partnerships with local companies and partners. Whatever you choose the content and context is of your E-day, it would be beneficial to look at involving companies in the work you do.
Five reasons enrichment build day is a great idea!
We have talked about three main variations of enrichment build days. But I will give you some additional reasons to convince you why enrichment build days are a great idea.
#1 Unique events increase guest attendance; people like to be part of a unique experience where they can contribute to animal welfare. Zoo guest looks forward when a fun and educational enrichment event is held regularly. It will also create more opportunities for education about animal enrichment and welfare.
#2 Increase guest interaction with zoo staff; it increases the possibilities for interaction with zoo visitors and establishes a connection between guests, staff and animals, which increase possibilities for returning visitors. Research shows that interaction with keepers is one of the favourite guest experience.
#3 Increase community awareness and involvement; you can increase community involvement. For example, share a wish list of needed items to build new enrichment. You can make agreements on the donation of new materials. Wild Enrichment wrote an outstanding practical guide about community involvement in enrichment programs in zoos.
#4 increase zoo publicity; community involvement and increased guest interaction are always well received by press and news sites, to enhance your zoo publicity. These events can have high visibility on social media platforms and in newspapers.
#5 increase interdepartmental cooperation and teambuilding; Have you planned an E-day with zookeepers, other departments, or planned an event for visitors or companies? It certainly will increase the cooperation between different departments, benefits the long-term collaboration and when scheduled for zoo staff only makes a perfect way to use it as teambuilding opportunities.
Wrapping up with some tips
Before you rush to plan your first enrichment day, I will give you some tips to think about.
#Consider what enrichment you want to build; Before planning your E-day, you have to think about what kind of enrichment you want to build. Especially when you want to build enrichment with the help of visitors or participants from a company. You have to make sketches and have to prepare materials and tools to make it.
#Make it a community event; When you involve the (local) community, many will be prepared to make arrangements to deliver exciting materials. For example, you can arrange old tires from cars and tractors, get wooden spools from the local cable business. Maybe plants from the garden centres that are not sold anymore. You can have a huge win when you engage the local community to build ‘recycled enrichment’.
#Link to how you can enrich your pet; Enriching zoo animals is really great, but you can also link to the usefulness of enrichment for pets. They can also use a stimulating environment and make more effort to consume their food. This could be a perfect educational message, for the participants, that enrichment is not only necessary for zoo animals.
#Use nature as enrichment; When creating and building enrichment in such quantities, you need a lot of materials. Why not use natural materials as well? This way, you can lower the required resources and costs. I’ve written a complete article about using natural materials for enrichment. You should check it out!
#Local wildlife can be enriched too!; When you have a whole event around enrichment, think of enriching of your local wildlife too. You can make food enrichment for your local wildlife to make it more attractive to them in your zoo. It is a great way to connect your zoo visitors to local wildlife and their behaviour as well.
#Start small and grow E-day each time; When you start making your enrichment build day a reality, you have to start small. Start by organising an evening for zoo staff, and then build it up for zoo visitors. When this event(s) has more body, you can think of starting to offer this program or workshop for business clients as a teambuilding event.
Are you ready to plan your first enrichment build day?
I won’t hold you longer to start planning your first E-day. I’m convinced it will be absolutely a success. Have you already experience with an E-day? Or do you miss any information or query? Let us know in the comment section below! If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very thankful if you’d spread it to friends and colleagues in the zoo community. Let’s build some enrichment then, right?
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