Monthly Archives: January 2017

Zoo Enrichment

What is enrichment?

Enrichment is a term used to describe various activities that animal keepers utilize to encourage natural behavior from the animals under their care.


Why do we do Enrichment?

These activities increase the animals’ physical and mental activity levels, and stimulate natural behaviors which result in a healthier, “happier” animal.


How do we do Enrichment?

Items such as piñatas, puzzle feeders, toys and novelty foods are given to the animals on a random schedule to ensure interest or reaction to the stimuli. Keepers provide enrichment from five different categories to stimulate all of the animals’ senses and encourage a wide range of natural behaviors.


Environmental Enrichment

Environmental enrichment is placing objects that can be manipulated by the animal in some way via hands, mouth, legs, horns or head simply for investigation and exploratory play. These objects may be novel or pre-existing. This category enables keepers to enhance the animals’ Zoo habitat with opportunities that change or add complexity to their environment. Keepers spend a lot of time developing creative enrichment ideas.


Man-made examples are: balls, boxes, bags, barrels, car wash roller brushes, tires, or constructed items such as puzzle boxes, piñatas, and various PVC or fire hose contraptions.

Natural examples are: browse, large and small branches, hay, flowers, a variety of substrates, swings, climbing structures, hiding places, etc.


Sensory Enrichment

This category stimulates all of the animals’ senses- visual, olfactory (smell), auditory (hearing), taste and tactile (touch). Animal sensory systems are typically specialized by species and play crucial roles in their survival.

Examples are: bubbles, television nature programs, spices, perfumes, sounds of nature audio recordings, fresh browse and scratching posts.


Food Enrichment

This is how keepers make feeding time challenging and fun for the animals. Food can be presented in a variety of ways elicit feeding, hunting, foraging behaviors, problem-solving strategies, and to facilitate behavioral conditioning.

Food may be fresh, frozen, soft, hard, smooth, rough, heavy, light, cold, or and may be incorporated into puzzle boxes, hidden in or scattered about the habitat, or buried in the substrate. Different methods of presentation encourage animals to think and work for their food, as they would in the wild.


Social Enrichment

Social groupings should resemble those observed in the wild to facilitate feeding, grooming, social, territorial, and courtship behaviors. Mixed species exhibits may also provide symbiotic or complementary activities between the species.

Social interaction in the form of training and structured play builds trust and rapport between keeper and animal. Opportunities to interact with other animals (even artificial decoys or piñatas!) also stimulate beneficial natural behaviors and instinct.


Behavioral Conditioning

Behavioral conditioning for animal husbandry and research behaviors provides cognitive stimulation that increases the intellectual focus of an animal. Animals voluntarily participate in these training sessions to maintain established or learn new behaviors.


Why do we train our animals?

  • Reduces the stress of veterinary procedures
  • Enables better, safer animal care
  • Provides mental stimulation
  • Encourages positive keeper-animal relationships
  • Promotes educational opportunities



Bring out their “Wild Side”!

Animals, whether it be at the zoo or at home, have needs beyond the basics. Social interaction, play and training improve your pet’s overall health and well-being. As with zoo enrichment, get the facts first on your pet’s natural behaviors to help develop creative ideas and appropriate activities for your pet. Remember, the best enrichment is simply to spend as much quality time with your pets as possible. This is enriching for both you and your pet!


Dogs: Dogs are pack hunters — social predators. Focus on fun strategies to stimulate the sensory and predatory behaviors associated with hunting as well as opportunities for positive social interaction. Toys and exercise are extremely easy ways to enrich a dog.

Some Zoo ideas (wolves and foxes): perfumes, paper bags or boxes, bones, antlers, hides, piñatas and leaf piles.


Cats: Cats are intelligent, specialized carnivores with highly developed senses. Recent studies have shown that, unlike some exotic felines, house cats can be extremely social animals. Toys that provide movement and stimulate their sense of smell will attract the most interest. For example: feather chasers, catnip or even paper wads.

Some Zoo ideas (cougar, jaguar, leopards): fresh herbs, spices, snake sheds, blood-cicles or bouillon gelatin jigglers.

NEW Sea Turtle Recovery Center at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo

Essex County Turtle Back Zoo is excited to welcome the Sea Turtle Recovery (STR) to the list of new exhibits and partnerships on zoo grounds. Increased sea turtle strandings in the Northeast Region of the United States has caused several facilities to reach capacity throughout the year.  With this occurring, it does not leave available space for New Jersey’s stranded sea turtles that need critical treatment, and it also puts a heavy burden on the Southeast Region to facilitate the influx. Sea Turtle Recovery was created to help these turtles in need.

In 2014, more than 700 live sea turtles washed ashore in the Northeast. Just six years ago, the five-year average (2006-2010) was 152 cold-stunned sea turtles. Eight facilities in the region have the capacity to care for cold stunned or injured sea turtles.

All five species of sea turtles found in the Atlantic Ocean are threatened or endangered. They face many threats including fishing line entanglement, plastic ingestion, boat strikes, and are losing natural nesting and feeding sites because of coastal development.

At Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, a modern 4,000-square-foot facility was built to support this partnership. The new building has five recovery tanks, life support systems, and an intensive care unit for more critically injured turtles. Zoo visitors will be able to see less critical patients while learning about the perils sea turtles face and what the public can do to help. Once the turtles have regained their health, they will be released back into their natural habitat.

Now is the time to help these endangered and threatened species. Please go to, and follow Sea Turtle Recovery on Facebook to find out about the new nonprofit at the zoo and ways to help!

Sea Turtle Recovery (STR) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to the rehabilitation, preservation and conservation of sea turtles. Its current work extends throughout the state educating the public about the ecological role of sea turtles, threats they face, and ways to protect their future. Now, with the building donation of Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, the Sea Turtle Recovery can begin to fulfill the other portion of its mission to rehabilitate sea turtles for release back into the wild.

STR is dedicated to the rehabilitation, preservation and conservation of Sea Turtles.  STR’s goal is to rehabilitate sick or injured Sea Turtles for their release back to the wild. The Sea Turtle Recovery will also educate the public on the important ecological role of sea turtles, threats endangering them, and ways to protect their future.

Upcoming Events

  • February 20, 2017See the Seas Mini-Camp, Parts I and II
  • February 25, 2017 11:00 amSeasonal Job Fair
  • February 25, 2017 2:00 pmSOLD OUT - Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • February 26, 2017 2:00 pmMembers Only- Zoo Behind the Scenes: Giraffe House
  • March 4, 2017 12:00 pmSummer Camp Open House
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