The Wonders of Enrichment
November 19, 2021

The wonders of enrichment.

Keeping animals in captivity is a challenge, there’s no doubt about it. At Rescue Center Costa Rica, we receive an array of different species almost daily. Accommodating to all their needs can be hard, especially when the animals are battling stress and boredom. Unfortunately, many of our non-releasable animals have come directly from the pet trade; an environment prone to solitude and tedium. If left unchecked, the results from captivity can be fatal.

But fear not, our passionate team of dedicated volunteers and coordinators ensures that any animal in our care will not suffer the same fate. This is the wonderous world of enrichment: the introduction of novel items or scents to stimulate natural behaviors. Teams at the Rescue Center design activities, using an array of objects with differing tactile and sensory qualities. Being in a tropical country, live prey is also easy to come by. A wealth of insects can be found scurrying around under log piles, which provides the best natural resource for entertaining our animals.

For intelligent species, such as JackJack our capuchin monkey, we create puzzles involving food. This allows him to put his brain to good use, working out the best way to retrieve the food from the casings. A multitude of different ideas are implemented, from decaying wood filled with live grubs to suspended food hanging from branches.

In fact, we use this technique with many of our animals to induce natural skills and instincts, such as climbing and foraging. This enrichment engages brain activity and consequently keeps our animals occupied and busy. With our team of vets and zoologists, we assess the life-histories of each animal and determine what course of action to take with enrichment. It’s no good giving our peccaries (wild pigs) something that requires high dexterity, such as a puzzle. Give the same puzzle to dexterous animals, such as our raccoons and coatis, and they will be entertained for hours.

Of course, to avoid predictability, we are constantly changing enrichment ideas, and working together to come up with new, novel approaches. A firm favorite was created by one of our past volunteers and required using locally foraged palm fronds. We intricately weaved each frond to form a wicker basket, which in turn, contained a food treat. Each palm basket was hung at different levels, and our animals not only needed to work out how to get the baskets down, but to also get the food out from inside.

Not only is enrichment incredibly important and necessary for our animals, but also for our volunteers too. Sitting down together encourages team-building activities, creating close bonds between volunteers. After the fun of creating different enrichment ideas, the fun continues when we get to watch our hard work be put to good use by the animals.

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