Enrichment at the Wildlife Center

Here at the Wildlife Center of Virginia we care for animals, but what does that actually entail? Well, we have veterinarians to look after any ailments the animal could be suffering from. Then there is the rehabilitation staff who look after the husbandry (daily needs, such as food and water) of the patients. The patients can also receive physical or laser therapy, or even be exercised on a daily basis to prepare them for release. But what about their mental needs? Well, we look after that too!

As a rehabilitation extern I was able to enhance the daily lives of the animals at the Center. Every single day we use enrichment for the animals. Enrichment is when we provide stimulating and challenging objects and activities for animals. To help manage the enrichment, we have a schedule that lists the species of patients and education ambassadors that we have; the frequency of enrichment varies depending upon the species. For example, we enrich Jaz, our American Crow, far more often than our turtles, because Jaz's mental needs are greater. However, every animal can be enriched at least once every five days.

The next step is to choose what kind of enrichment the animal gets. Enrichment calendars provide an overview of the kinds of enrichment appropriate to each species. Those who are providing enrichment check the calendar dates, write down the type of enrichment on the special enrichment board that hangs in the kitchen. But what kind of enrichment do we actually do? Over the course of the calendar, we try to provide a variety of items and activities that stimulate all of the senses of the animals. So one day we may spray diluted peppermint onto the furniture in the enclosures, for the animals to smell. The next day, we may put AstroTurf in the enclosure.

Sometimes we get to create the items that go into the enclosures -- this keeps the items novel for the animals, as each item might be constructed differently. One example was when we took newspaper, placed mouse bedding in it, then tied it up into sachets, which we hung in the enclosures. We even hid mice in a few of the sachets that were for birds of prey to reward the birds for playing with the little bundles. Papa G'Ho tore through his quickly!

Anything can be enrichment: Buddy enjoys a bottle filled with small rocks, which makes noise as he drags it around his enclosure. The turtles enjoy cherry tomatoes hidden in toys. Hiding food in an enrichment item is a good way to ensure that the animals will interact with the enrichment. The Wildlife Center of Virginia is always looking for new enrichment ideas and trying new things to make the lives of the animals a little richer. Feel free to experiment with your own animals enriching their lives with a little creative flare!

WCV Class of 2014


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