How to Evaluate Enrichment
You’ve looked for inspiration online, gathered some materials, put together a new enrichment item, and have given it to your animal. How do you know that the enrichment is doing its job?
The purpose of enrichment is to stimulate an animal to promote their physical and mental well being. That stimulation should elicit some sort of behavioral response in the animal—whether it be increased activity, more time spent foraging, stalking and hunting behaviors, etc—that enhances the animal’s physical and mental welfare. In short, enrichment should be designed and given with a behavioral goal in mind. So, to determine whether or not you’ve created an “effective” enrichment item, all you need to do is a little bit of observation to see if your enrichment item is promoting your behavioral goal(s).
Options for Evaluating Enrichment
Interaction time Rating
Enrichment is rated on a numerical scale based on how much time animals spent interacting with an enrichment item
Best For: Institutions/care staff with little time to evaluate enrichment OR if the animal receiving the enrichment has a small behavioral repertoire (i.e. a goldfish or a bullfrog)
Pros: This method is not very time consuming, has a very simple rating system, and virtually anyone can conduct these evaluations
Cons: This system only tells you about the amount of time an animal spent directly engaging with enrichment. It fails to determine if the enrichment elicited the behaviors it was intended for. Also keep in mind that the sheer presence of an enrichment item might alter an animal's behavior, even if they don't interact with it. This method of observation won't determine behavioral impact.
To fully understand how an animal uses an enrichment item and rate each one more effectively, we reccommend using Option 2.
Behavior & Activity Rating
Enrichment is rated based on how well it elicited the specific behaviors it was designed to encourage
Best For: Institutions looking for a more comprehensive enrichment evaluation, places using enrichment to combat undesirable behaviors and boredom, places with interns/volunteers able to complete the evaluation
Pros: This method will give you a lot more information about the effects of an enrichment item and will help you make more informed decisions about animal care and enrichment
Cons: More time consuming and involved than the numerical system. Interns and volunteers may need to be trained to identify species-specific behaviors before conducting the observation.
How to Conduct Option 1: Interaction Time Rating
Watch the animal for a minimum of 15 minutes, and record the start and end timestamps of when the animal is directly interacting with the enrichment item.
When you’re finished, determine what percentage of time the animal spent interacting with the enrichment item. Use this value to give your enrichment a numerical rating. Our favorite version (found to the right) was developed by Kristin Froyd at the Pueblo Zoo.
How to Conduct Option 2: Behavior & Activity Rating
Grab a pen, some paper, and a stopwatch. Decide how long you’re going to observe the animal. We recommend at least 15 minutes. Note: it’s generally much easier to observe one animal at a time.
Write down what time you began observations. Your observations should begin when the animal received the enrichment.
Write down all of the behaviors that the animal does during the observation period, and record the timestamp at which the behavior began. Be sure to record if the behaviors are direct interactions with the enrichment item (i.e. “smelling” and “smelling enrichment” have an important distinction—the latter is a direct interaction with the enrichment item). Do this for the entirety of the observation.
Analyze your observations.
Use the rating scales below, which have been adapted from Kristin Froyd's enrichment protocol at Pueblo Zoo, to analyze your observations. This method encompasses four key components of enrichment in the analysis, including time the animal spent directly engaging with enrichment, the animal’s activity level while the enrichment was present, level of effort required by the caretakers, and goal achievement. Choose which value best matches your observations for each category.
Interest in Enrichment
Once you’ve completed your enrichment evaluation, you can catalogue it and use the data you’ve gained from the evaluation to make informed decisions about your animal’s care. If you have a special event at your facility and you’d like to increase the likelihood that your animal will be active, choose an enrichment item that scored highly on the “animal activity” scale. If you’d like to encourage your animal to forage instead of performing a stereotypic behavior, choose an enrichment item that scored highly in the “goal achievement” category for foraging.
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