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    Time To Thrive: Considering Enrichment For Species And Individuals

    In the third resource of our Time To Thrive enrichment series, we are looking at providing enrichment at a species and individual level. When brainstorming enrichment ideas and developing enrichment programs, it is important to take both into consideration. To learn more about what enrichment is and why it is important, check out our first resource, and then take a peek at our second resource briefly covering the types of enrichment!

    Encouraging species-specific natural behaviors is a great way to improve the lives of residents. However, each resident will have different histories, preferences, and abilities to engage with various types of enrichment. Additionally, it may not make sense to encourage every natural behavior in a sanctuary environment (think certain reproductive behaviors). While some enrichment does not necessarily have to encourage natural behaviors in order to be positively stimulating, encouraging species-specific natural behaviors is a good focus. Let’s take a look at some factors to take into consideration when brainstorming enrichment ideas for species, and then again for individuals.

    Enrichment Planning For Species

    Learning about the history of your resident species can provide insight into how they navigate the world, in addition to what’s important to them as a species. Not only can this help you develop good enrichment plans, but it can help you understand them better and provide better care in general. Some good questions to ask when considering enrichment options may include:

    • Where does their species originate from?
      • What is the climate like there?
      • The topography?
    • What are the feeding strategies of their species?
      • Are they grazers?
      • Opportunistic feeders?
      • Group of solo foragers?
    • How do they protect themselves from predators?
      • Do they use a highly developed sense of smell or have special visual abilities?
      • Do they burrow or hide?
      • Do they run, fly, or stand their ground?
    • Where and when do they sleep?
      • At night, during the day?
      • In trees? Under cover? 
    • When are they most active?
      • At night, during the day, at dusk and dawn?
    • How do they interact with others of their species? 
      • How do they communicate with one another?
      • Is there a social hierarchy?
      • What do social bonds look like?
    • How do they spend their time? (see Activity Budgets in our resident behavior 101 resource)
      • How much time do they spend eating, resting, walking, playing, and engaging in other social behaviors?
    • What are their physical abilities and attributes? 
      • Do they see particular colors?
      • Are they generally built for running, climbing, flying, etc…?
      • Do they have a heightened sense of smell/hearing?
      • Do they have special scent glands? 

    Knowing the answer to these questions can help your sanctuary provide appropriate enrichment opportunities and ensure a more potentially successful outcome. Understanding their motivations and reasons for their behaviors can also help provide appropriate living spaces and diets, as well as to help build trust between caregiver and resident.

    Sanctuary Species-Specific Example:

    Nutritional Enrichment

    As a species, a normal feeding behavior for pigs is rooting. They will search for food and are opportunistic eaters. When considering nutritional enrichment for pig residents, you might take pig-safe produce and hide it throughout their living space under logs or boxes, or bury it in a rooting box, or under some substrate. This would make more sense for them as a species than, say, hanging branches of mulberry trees on platforms that require rising onto back legs. That particular strategy would be more suitable for goats as a species. Researching the species you care for and answering questions like the above (and more!) can help you create enrichment plans that make sense for each resident species. 

    This graphic is of a pig with dirt on his snout standing in front of a log with treats hidden underneath.
    Graphic of a goat standing on a rock to reach mulberry branches.

    Enrichment Planning For Individuals

    Of course, residents are individuals, and just like us, they have their own personalities, preferences, state of health, and past experiences- both positive and negative, that can affect whether a specific enrichment offering is appropriate for them. These factors can collectively influence their behavior and responses (and ability to respond) to certain stimuli. When considering enrichment for individual residents, some good questions to ask may include:

    • What is their age group?
      • Baby?
      • Young?
      • Adult?
      • Senior?
    • What is their sex? (This can affect their behavioral responses in some instances)
    • What is their reproductive status? (See our resource on why breeding shouldn’t occur at sanctuaries)
      • Pregnant?
      • Nursing?
      • In estrus? Laying?
      • Neutered?
      • Intact?
    • Does the individual have any physical limitations or health considerations that may make certain types of typically species-specific enrichment inappropriate?
      • Mobility challenges?
      • Hard of hearing?
      • Visually impaired?
      • Injuries?
      • Other health conditions?
    • Does this individual have any known history of interacting with types of enrichment? 
      • If so, what is it and how did they respond?
    • How does this individual respond when confronted with new things?
      • With curiosity?
      • Boldness/confidence?
      • Fear?
      • Uncertainty?
    • Is there any known trauma in this individual’s history?
      • What did it entail?
    • What is this individual’s general personality like?
      • Confident/Timid?
      • Curious?
      • Playful?
      • Quiet?
      • Reserved?
    • What social relationships does the individual have?
      • Parental?
      • Companionable?
      • Mate?
    • What is their place in the social order of their flock or herd?
    • Any notable social behaviors?
      • Often seen alone?
      • Last to access resources?
      • Guards resources?
      • Demonstrates confrontational behaviors?

    Sanctuary Individual Resident Example:

    Nutritional Enrichment

    Gloria is a sweet chicken who loves a good snack as much as any other flockmate. Her caregivers often provide her social group, consisting of Gloria, Henrietta, And Frankie, with treats contained in a PVC pipe that has holes drilled in the side. The hens then push around the pipe and treats fall out! It is a good time for everyone. Unfortunately, Gloria sustained an injury to her foot, making it difficult for her to walk around a lot. Her vet recommends resting her foot for a couple of days before resuming her usual exuberant activities. This means that pushing about a PVC pipe and scratching for snacks is not an appropriate form of enrichment for Gloria. Instead, her caregivers have partially isolated her from the flock’s larger outdoor living space, but have provided her with nutritional enrichment in the form of a small “garland” of grapes interspersed with a few bits of plain popcorn. This allows Gloria to enjoy nutritional enrichment that takes into consideration her current health needs.

    This graphic is of a hen with a bandage on her foot, standing in front of a treat garland, sturng with grapes and popcorn.

    Whew! That’s a long list of questions to ask and answers to consider, but it’s an important step in identifying appropriate enrichment for residents and will help to ensure successful outcomes. We hope you can use this resource when planning enrichment strategies at your sanctuary! Think of something we missed? Let us know and stay tuned for the next in our series on enrichment.


    Enrichment Provision | Wild Welfare (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Goal-Oriented Behavioural And Environmental Enrichment In Aquarium Species | Journal Of Zoo And Aquarium Research (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Guidelines For General Species Environmental Enrichment | National Institute For Health (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Non-Compassionate Source?

    If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

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