Enrichment is a key component in every animal husbandry program. It is just as vital to our animals' overall health as is good nutrition and medical care. Out in the wild, animals are constantly faced with risks, challenges, and choices throughout their lives. This occurs during a majority of the activities that are required for basic survival – foraging for food, fleeing from predators, raising young, and interacting with other animals, just to name a few. Animals under human care inevitably have a more predictable lifestyle and are not challenged with many of these tough situations. This often leads to the animals displaying a variety of stereotypic or abnormal behavioral patterns. A successful enrichment program thus seeks to imitate Mother Nature by re-creating some of these unique circumstances, affording the animals a sense of choice and control over their environment and ultimately reducing the frequency of abnormal behavior.
Enrichment activities are planned with the fundamental goal of encouraging "species-appropriate" behaviors, which are those that the animal naturally performs in the wild. Some examples include digging, changing swim patterns, foraging for food items, interacting positively with other animals, and stimulation of the senses. Enrichment is also specific to individual animals; in other words, what one animal might find positive and fun may actually be boring (or even aversive) to a different animal. Keeping this in mind, animal care staff must get to know animals on an individual basis in order to gain a better understanding of each of their likes and dislikes.
This helps to ensure that the enrichment being provided to each animal will most effectively elicit a goal response. In general, it has been found that animals with a stimulating and enriching environment are healthier and happier!