Wednesday, August 11, 2010

They've got the munchies

At the Alaska Zoo we called them Behavioral Enrichment Tools but they could have just as easily gone by another name: toys.



Popsicles made with frozen fish for the seals, honey drizzled down a tree stump in the black bear's den, human scents rubbed on a rock in the snow leopard exhibit. 

Zoos, research centers, and rescue shelters face a dilemma: how do they keep caged animals, particularly those with vast natural territories, from suffering from extreme boredom? This isn't a minor problem. Animals, just like humans, can develop severe and crippling physical and psychological traumas from long stretches in captivity. I quite clearly remember the polar bear at the Oregon Zoo that took three steps forward and three steps back, for hours at a time. Or the elephant (at the Honolulu Zoo?) that stood in one place and crossed and uncrossed its back legs, over and over again. 

It is only recently that caregivers have made significant headway in addressing some of these challenges.  

Stepping off the soapbox now...

The girls haven't had a chance to go outside much lately, thanks to a neighbor's cat that has suddenly discovered their coop. This is no friendly pussy cat, either. It's a predator. All it has to do is stalk by the run and suddenly our girls are in a tizzy, running around the enclosure, feathers flying everywhere. I'm amazed that we haven't yet experienced any broken legs or bent wings. We've certainly lost enough feathers to assemble a few down pillows.

Not exactly the kind of enrichment I'm looking for. 

In lieu of a free-ranging existence, I usually provide the girls with a handful of tasty weeds that are poked, stem-first, through the mesh of the coop every morning. This is a challenge: they must draw the plants through the mesh by the stem before reaching the tasty goodness at the other end. Nothing is free in life, ladies. You gotta work for that reward. 

Now, what should I do about that cat? Any suggestions?