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Animal Enrichment Versus Routine

Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.


Is it Enrichment?


"Enrichment" - `the act of making rich; that which enriches'.

I've been thinking about this definition for some time. It is clear to me that within the `zoo' sense that any "enrichment" offered/presented more than once or twice a week ceases to become what it was intended to be. It becomes "routine". That is - `any regular course of action or procedure adhered to by order or by force of habit'.

Routine, of course, is important, and I am not knocking it, but it should not be dressed up in or promoted in the "Enrichment" guise.

A dog which is taken for a walk every day and chases a ball clearly enjoys and gains both mental and physical benefits from the exercise. But, as it is the same every day it is routine and not enrichment. A dog which is confined to a pen nine days in ten would be enriched by a walk (even without the ball) on the tenth day even though it may be part of a routine.

Static "Enrichment" equipment within the zoo enclosure simply becomes part of the cage furniture, ornamentation or decoration, nonetheless important, but dead as "Enrichment" per se.

Identical daily methods of feeding enrichment simply becomes `feeding' no matter how well stage managed it may be. Enrichment needs work, imagination, dedication and time. It is heartening to see this being recognised by forward thinking zoos who have increased staffing levels to take this important `pillar' of zoo management on board. More need to follow suit. "Enrichment" is for our charges, the animals, pure and simple.....not the public, not the keepers, not the management, and not to show anybody how clever we are. I believe curators, keepers and zoo inspectors along with others should make a distinction between enrichment and routine. Give credits for both but not one at the expense of the other.

If your zoo claims to have an enrichment programme in place which consists of the animals implementing the same thing in day in and day out say "fine, you have a routine...but what are you doing for enrichment?"



Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on March 30, 2010:

Thank you Ben. I wish more could see the point. There is a huge number of zoos which daily utilise cage furniture in routine and call it 'enrichment'. For the animals it is like living in a house where there are no birthdays or other celebrations. Boring!

Ben Zoltak from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA on March 30, 2010:

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More good points! I again see what you are saying. I am happy to report that here in the States, especially over the past decade, I see more and more "varying" forms of enrichment in animal enclosures, especially the primates. Thank you for fleshing out the differences between routine and enrichment. Sometimes the obvious needs to be underscored.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 18, 2009:

Thank you Janny-Anne.

Jenny-Anne on November 18, 2009:

Hi Peter - I enjoyed this article on enrichment. It's something I was very interested in with the Irish Seal Sanctuary and really believe it should be given the attention it deserves in any setting for animals.

The distinction between enrichment and routine is made really clearly here. It's a point of interest for any visitor too as it's an insight into the true nature and behaviour of wild animals.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on November 10, 2009:

i scribble - Thanks. I admit the difference is a subtle one but thought the point should be made and I agree with the walk. It is enriching routine, Within a zoo setting though a routine or piece of cage furniture is often pointed out as enrichment when it is used day in and day out and ceased long ago to be enrichment.

I do work as a zoo consultant. A good two hours of every day is answering queries and helping people. Sadly the paying jobs are few and far between.

i scribble on November 10, 2009:

I see your point about the distinction between enrichment and routine. But on the other hand, a walk 3 times a week for a backyard dog is so much better than no walks at all! People do need to realize that boredom is an issue for animals as well as people. Maybe you can act as a consultant to zoos for developing enrichment programs. Sounds like you would have good ideas.

Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on July 11, 2009:

LRobbins - It is a subject close to my heart. I dislike zoos who promote routine as enrichment....and many do. Once the difference is 'legally' recognised within zoo 'law', many are going to have to pull their act together.

Laurel from Germany on July 11, 2009:

Great article! I used to work at a zoo in environmental education and was fortunate enough to develop animal enrichment programs (in conjuction with the zoo keepers) for the public. Enrichment plays such an important role in animal health and happiness. It's great to see someone promoting it.

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