Environmental enrichment in large cats is very diverse. It ranges from improvements in facilities to the application of games or feeding guidelines. In this article, we show you everything you need to know about it.
General information about environmental enrichment in big cats
Environmental enrichment is the improvement of the quality of life, both physical and sensory, of a group of animals in captivity, for which behaviors and behaviors similar to those of a healthy animal in freedom are recreated.
With this we managed to reduce negative behaviors and behaviors, gestural tics or violent acts against themselves or against the group. Through environmental enrichment we offer regular stimuli for animals to retain their ability to adapt to environmental changes without stress, as it would happen in the middle of nature.
Why is environmental enrichment applied to large cats in zoological nuclei?
The felines in freedom have little free time, they spend their lives looking for food, defending their territory, rivaling the rest of the animals of the group in times of heat, fleeing predators, etc.. That is, they spend all their energy on these tasks, and they spend most of their time and effort. Therefore, in the zoological nuclei the care and the environment of the animals must solve the majority of needs of this type.
All zoos must include enrichment resources in order to maintain a balance between the feline’s free time in captivity and occupations, which improves his mental and physical state. This is achieved by providing a complex and unpredictable environment and favoring behavioral models that would occur in nature. This will improve the welfare of the animal and its physical form.
For enrichment to fulfill its objective, you have to alternate games and proposals, for which it is necessary to create an appropriate calendar and, thus, the surprise effect and the novelty remain.
What happens when there is no environmental enrichment?
The most typical abnormal behavior in captivity are stereotypes. These are fixed behaviors in time and space, and without any apparent purpose or function.
Some examples in big cats are:
- The repetitive walks.
- The excess of grooming.
Types of environmental enrichment in large cats
It includes the use of:
- Ponds, lakes or pools to cool off.
- Green areas with plants that recreate their natural environment, which are used for shadows or to hide food.
- Accessories such as ropes, vines, logs, stones … that move from place, put on and take off. Thus we encourage the instinct of exploration and force the animal to move through different parts of the enclosure..
Environmental enrichment in large cats through management and care
- Create new feeding protocols, such as the use of manipulated feeders so that the cat has to make an effort to get the food.
- Changes in feeding schedules.
- Hide part of the food, distribute it in parts throughout the installation … With this we manage to keep the animal entertained and stimulate its senses.
- Interaction and training sessions, use of positive reinforcement techniques …
Environmental enrichment in big cats through the senses
Nature has endowed animals with senses through which they specialize and adapt to the environment. This sensory world is what allows them to smell and track the piece when hunting, can communicate with their peers, show us their mood or know their surroundings.
Environmental enrichment can be based on those 5 senses, for example through:
- The introduction of ‘lies’ dams to stimulate stalking and persecution behaviors, for which odorous essences, decoys – feces, hairs or meat – are used and thus create a world of odorous sensations.
- The development of an auditory environment, which leads them to listen to recordings of natural sounds, which reinforce their natural behaviors.
- Providing them with high areas from where they can control their environment and, if possible, see other animals of different species, never prey because that would generate stress that is difficult to control on both sides.
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