About

Enriching the lives of animals by bringing out their wild side.

Animals have to work really hard to survive in the wild. They use their mental and physical capabilities to do things like hunt, build homes, forage for food, hide from predators, and find a mate. When an animal lives in a zoo or sanctuary, their caretakers ensure that they have plenty of food, water, and shelter. Zoo animals’ lives don’t depend on their mental and physical capabilities—they’ll get fed and cared for anyways. While these animals live incredibly comfortable lives, they can get bored or stressed if they are not challenged both mentally and physically.
 

We create and evaluate puzzles, toys, and games to stimulate problem-solving and physical activity. All of our puzzles and toys (called enrichment) are intended to provide animals with experiences that mimic ones they may encounter in the wild—like foraging for food or using a tool to get a reward. Our cutting edge products are durable, safe for animals, and can be changed in hundreds of ways to give animals new challenges every day.
 

We also aim to inspire animal caretakers to create interesting, dynamic enrichment for the animals under their care. Our team is committed to educate people about the importance of enrichment, gather enrichment-related resources for animal caretakers, and share enrichment ideas with the animal care community.

The Animal
Vending Machine

We have developed a brand new type of enrichment device that puts a technological spin on foraging enrichment—the Animal Vending Machine. The Animal Vending Machine accepts tokens in exchange for a small amount of food, and is compatible with nuts, dried fruits, popcorn, and more. Animal caretakers can hide or scatter tokens around an exhibit, and then animals can search for the tokens and exchange them with the vending machine for a reward. Tokens can also be hidden in puzzle feeders and other enrichment devices for a more challenging task. The Animal Vending Machine promotes foraging behaviors while encouraging animals to move and explore their environments in new ways. Our machine adds steps to the traditional foraging process that require problem solving and physical activity, so animals spend their time engaging in natural behaviors instead of abnormal or boredom-based ones.

Team

Nick Naitove

Nick's interest for enrichment began while he was a behavioral research intern at Chimp Haven, Inc. Shortly after, Nick began The Master's of Professional Science in Zoo, Aquarium, and Animal Shelter Management at Colorado State University. During his tenure at CSU, Nick spent the summer of 2015 at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, where he created WildThink's first enrichment device---The Animal Vending Machine--out of Lego Robotics and scrap materials from around the zoo. Nick shared his philosophy behind The Animal Vending Machine at the Orangutan Species Survival Plan Husbandry Workshop, and was thrilled to find huge interest in his product among the zoo community. Nick's Animal Vending Machine is undergoing testing with chimpanzees and will be available for sale soon.

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Emily’s fascination with animals stemmed from her frequent visits to the Brookfield Zoo as a child. She attended Colorado State University and graduated with a degree in biological science in 2015. Later that year, Emily began the Professional Science Master’s Program in Zoo, Aquarium, and Animal Shelter Management at CSU, where she focused on her interest in animal enrichment. Emily conducted her thesis research at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs to determine the effectiveness of Nick’s Animal Vending Machine as a form of cognitive enrichment for captive great apes. Emily is a bonobo caretaker at the Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative in Des Moines, Iowa, where she gets to come up with ways to enrich apes every single day.

Emily Cain