Plants and Animals

Zoo Animal Jam Sessions Provide Enrichment

June 2, 2014 | by Lisa Winter

Photo credit: Smithsonian/National Zoo

Any zoo worth their salt provides plenty of enrichment for their animals. Enrichment encourage wild, species-specific behavior as well as opportunities that do not appear in the wild, but provide certain benefits. This might come in the form of design of the exhibit, certain smells to pique the animals’ interests, auditory stimulations with sounds from their native habitat,  food that requires natural foraging instincts to receive, and toys that provide mental and physical stimulation. Animals that receive this enrichment over the course of a lifetime are typically healthier and happier, with longer lifespans than those that do not. Next time you are at the zoo, chat up a zookeeper and find out what they do to keep their animals stimulated.

Asian small-clawed otters at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo are given access to a keyboard twice a month. Zoo officials report that when the otters were first given the opportunity to play, they created fairly simple music. Now, they produce sounds that are more complex.

 

Bonnie the orangutan also lives at the National Zoo and loves to play the xylophone. She and other great apes at the zoo are part of a study exploring their musical prowess. Check out her skills here, and don’t miss her at 0:45 in as she reacts to another orangutan who tries to turn it into a duet.

 

Since this video was released, there have been some who have criticized the Smithsonian for “wasting” tax dollars on something as “weird” as providing a keyboard for otters. However, zoo officials told the Associated Press that the music “helps the animals to work on their sight, touch and hearing.” Additionally, many enrichment items are actually donated by zoo patrons. If you would like to help provide necessary enrichment to animals at the National Zoo, they have a wish list on their website so anyone can donate money or purchase specific items to be provided to the animals who need it most. 

Last year, a study group from the University of California - Santa Cruz released a video of Ronan, a sea lion who is the first non-human mammal to have been shown to keep a beat. That study challenged preconceived notions that only animals capable of vocal mimicry would be able to keep a beat, and indicated that keeping a rhythm might be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously believed. Later studies showed that Ronan was actually able to respond to tempo changes in order to keep time correctly. 

 

[Hat tip: ScienceAlert]

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