A big barrel painted like a zebra and containing zebra feces attracted Njeri, a female lion, at Tyler's Caldwell Zoo. She pawed and sniffed at the barrel. Soon, a male lion named Ayotundi joined her and curiously hovered over the barrel.

Since lions eat zebras in the wild, the barrel and feces made them react the way zookeepers expected. They became excited and played. 

"It's very fascinating how they interact with each other thinking its prey. It's pretty cool how they calculate their moves, how they study it looking for something prey-wise," David Thomas, a zoo visitor from Winnsboro, said as he stood near the lion exhibit watching the drama unfold.

The barrel was a new exercise staged in celebration of Enrichment Day on Saturday for lions and visitors. Many objects, foods, sounds and other things were given to animals throughout the zoo to enrich, stimulate and enhance their lives.

Zookeepers also made educational talks periodically, telling visitors where the animals are from, what they eat and other facts about ma-caws, squirrel monkeys, otters, reptiles and others.

Keepers give zoo animals different enrichment items everyday throughout the year, but scheduled many of them Saturday.

"The purpose is for our zoo visitors to be able to see the different enrichments we give the animals and ways that we enhance their lives. The whole day is about educating the visitors about our animals and ways we enrich our animals," Lauren Furch, a zoo teacher, said.

"Enrichments are anything from giving them something you can smell, something new to eat, something new to play with. It gets them more active and moving around."

Much like pet owners taking their dog for a long walk, or playing tug of war with an old sock, zookeepers encouraged zoo animals in a wide variety of environmental enrichment and training activities.

Dead mice were hidden in the bobcat exhibit. When zookeepers made a distress call for the mice, the bobcats used their natural instinct and moved around, digging and trying to find the mice like they would if hunting in the wild.

Bears were treated to a tall ice tree made out of pineapple, papayas and oranges.

"It resembled something you would see at an office party. The bears were able to play with it and eat it at the same time," Ms. Furch said.

Giraffes browsed on tall stacks of bamboo, pulling bamboo leaves off the stalks like they would normally pull leaves off trees in the wild in Africa.

Vultures and owls were given bones with a little meat.

"They could go down to the bones and pick the meat off like they would out in the wild since they are scavengers," Ms. Furch said.

Meerkats could dig for insects buried in a box of mulch like they would in the wild.

At the end of an elephant presentation done every weekend, keepers gave the elephants watermelon or fruit.

Tigers received a big blood popsicle with a bone in it and some meat. They had to wait for it to thaw before they could reach "the good stuff on the inside," Ms. Furch said. "They like to sit there and hold on to it and lick it. It also cools them down at the same time."

Similarly, rhinos got a big fruit popsicle with a bunch of fruit inside and had to wait for it to melt before they could get to the special fruit trees inside, while the bald eagle got a fish popsicle.

The cheetah found a ball in his exhibit area made out of vines that he could play with like a house cat plays with a ball.

Penguins were given straws to use as nesting materials, even if they weren't having any eggs. It's a natural behavior, Ms. Furch said.

A lot of the enrichments were supposed to provide ways for zoo animals to perform natural behaviors they would out in the wild, whether hunting or foraging, and provided something to keep them busy and motivated, Ms. Furch said.

 

 
 

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