Animal Enrichment Program | Fort Worth Zoo
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Animal Enrichment Program

The Fort Worth Zoo Animal Enrichment Program encompasses the behavioral needs of the animals in our collection. The program is designed to provide our animals with opportunities to express natural, species-appropriate behaviors, whether it be foraging, exploring, playing, or simply resting comfortably. We accomplish this by providing variety within our animals’ environments each day, offering new food items, objects to manipulate, nest materials, and novel scents. This includes all kinds of items for busy paws, tails, beaks, mouths and noses!

Enrichment is defined by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Behavioral Advisory Group as “A process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history. It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare.”

The Fort Worth Zoo Animal Enrichment Program is coordinated by the Conservation and Behavior Department, which provides animal care managers and keepers with the necessary supplies and current information to effectively implement enrichment for all animals in our collection. Our program is goal-oriented, and offers benefits for our animals and our guests!


Animal Training Program

Training is a part of everyday life for the animals at the Fort Worth Zoo. From feathers and fins to scales and fur, keepers teach the animals to voluntarily perform specific behaviors by offering positive reinforcement such as treats and praise. Positive reinforcement training provides opportunities for the animals to participate in their own care, and procedures such as medical examinations and vaccinations are turned into rewarding situations. Some of the behaviors animals are taught include touching a target, going to a station, getting on a scale, presenting body parts to receive vaccines, and for some birds, flights for educational programs, all based on positive reinforcement and trust built with their keepers.

 

  • When a specific location is desired for an animal for routine husbandry and health care, medical examinations or for outreach programs, keepers teach target training. The “target” varies from animal to animal and is typically an object on a stick that can be presented in front of the animal. Training the behavior involves teaching the animal to touch a specific body part (snout or hand) to the target when given a cue. When the animal touches the target, the keeper will “bridge” the behavior with either a clicker or praise and give the animal a treat.
  • Scale training is important because when animals are trained to voluntarily step on a scale, keepers can get weights which can be used to make dietary decisions and contribute to a holistic care record for the animal by offering insight into their body condition and health.
  • Many animals are trained to present body parts such as a shoulder and/or hip for vaccine administration. When the animal presents their body part and holds in position for the injection, the animal receives positive reinforcement, often in the form of a large jackpot of treats and praise for this behavior.
  • Many aquatic animals participate in training sessions. Fish are trained to swim into nets so they can be examined and/or easily moved between tanks when necessary. Sharks learn to feed from tongs to ensure each shark receives their vitamins and any competition for food is reduced among tank mates.