Do animals get bored in zoos?


There are three activities that all animals in the wild are totally preoccupied with. They are: finding food; trying not to become food; and finding a companion to mate with. These three activities are essential to the survival of any species, and thus what dictates most animal behaviours, migration patterns and rituals. So what becomes of that animal when you provide it with its daily food, keep it safe from predators and introduce it to a mate at the most opportune time? Well the short answer is if not managed correctly they will get bored.
A polar bear at Sea World playing with a toy


A good zoo will always have in place an animal enrichment program that is designed to stimulate animals both mentally and physically. These programs are implemented  by well trained zoo keeper who are not only there to clean cages and feed and water animals but who also becomes the animals’ guardian, a person who knows the animals personalities, likes, dislikes and temperament. By understanding the animals under their care, keepers introduce activities like hiding food for animals to search out, and inventing games that the animals can participate in and introduce toys that can be played with. A simple plastic container, branches or a cardboard box can enthral an animal for hours and introduced scents can stimulate animals natural instincts.  These activities are constantly changed depending on the animals needs.

Lion and Lioness enjoying the sun at the Bronx Zoo


Enclosure design plays a significant part in the enrichment of animals’ daytoday lives. Water features, scratching posts, caves, climbing structures and mud pools all encourage animals to explore and demonstrate their normal behaviors. More and more zoos are introducing multianimal enclosures, especially for primates who get bored most easily – these enclosures will have a range of different species in natural environs that encourage inter-species interaction.  Other enclosure encourage complex social groups to thrive allowing for natural breeding and social rituals.  Common sense also plays a large part in giving animals the space they need to thrive such as putting social animals like Gorillas together and solitary animals like Orang-utans alone in their own enclosures or spreading food around an enclosure for an animal that likes to forage.

The Madagascar enclosures at the Bronx Zoo is good example of multiple species in the one enclosure


Zoo animals that have their mental well-being enriched by these methods generally live significantly longer than their wild cousins. Possibly because of the stress that has been alleviated by not having to find food, hide from predators and fight for the right to mate.

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