Airdate: Feb 10, 2012
Scientist: David Shepherdson
KSC: Animal Smarts - Enrichment
No free lunch! Animals living in captivity are challenged to maintain the skills they would be using in the wild.
Kids' Science Challenge: Animal Smarts Enrichment
music; ambience: Gibbons - Oregon 011-05-12 12;38;24, Splash - pulse extraordinary sounds cd #17
One of the major challenges for a zoo, is how to keep its animals stimulated and happy. It's called enrichment. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
All wild animals spend a lot of time searching for food and they have very special behaviors evolved to do that.
David Shepardson is the Deputy Conservation Division Manager at the Oregon Zoo.
And a lot of the enrichments that we use involve puzzle feeders and really what we're trying to do with those puzzle feeders is recreate some of the challenge of feeding in the wild.
A puzzle feeder is an enrichment device, which contains food, but the animal has to use its intelligence and abilities to solve the puzzle and get the food.
So, sea otters for example, one of the things sea otters do is they look for crustaceans they look for crabs and shells in the complex sea floor. It's a challenging task! Sometimes they have to reach into caves to pull lobsters out. The puzzle feeders requires them to use some of the exactly the same sorts of skills, how to manipulate and get the food item out of this difficult place. So, the food hidden in the milk crate is not totally dissimilar to looking for a crab on the seashore. Primates mandrills, gibbons, they look for food in the wild. They're looking in the crevices in the trees they're looking in little holes to get food out of. The puzzle feeders we give them offer them not dissimilar opportunities. So there are although some of the things you see zoo animals doing that we give them for enrichment don't look very natural, usually there is some sort of equivalent behavior that they do in the wild in order to get their food or find the things they need to live in the wild.
David Shepardson is one of the scientists participating in the Kids' Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the national science foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.