Written by Emily Cain
Naturalistic enrichment is a hot topic in the animal welfare community right now because many zoos are moving towards only allowing natural-looking enrichment items on exhibit with animals. Finding and creating naturalistic enrichment can be challenging, so I've rounded up my top 10 favorites just for you!
Click on the pink buttons below each item for the behaviors they elicit, which species can use them, and instructions for making the item yourself.
Hollowed out bamboo is already natural, so you don't have to disguise it in any way. Animals can roll the bamboo on the ground, pull browse and other food items out of it, and chew on the bamboo itself.
Tree Cookie Stacks
This enrichment is really easy to make and can be used with most land animals. You can scale it up in size for larger animals, or make a miniature version for little guys like meerkats.
Hanging Holey Log
This enrichment can be used for carnivores and herbivores alike, but is really great for simulating climbing behavior in large carnivores. Leopards, caracals, and other climbing carnivores will be able to use their claws to steady the log while licking off the meat and blood. This is a great on-exhibit enrichment that provides talking points for natural hunting and climbing behaviors.
Leaf Smash FOrage
Source: Honolulu Zoo
What better way to encourage species-specific behaviors in foraging animals than to give them a forage? Foraging encourages animals to be active and explore their environments. This leaf smash forage is more time-consuming for the animal than a traditional scattered food forage because animals have to chew through or unwrap the leaves to access the food inside .The smash recipe can be modified for just about any herbivore or omnivore.
Hanging Log Platform FeedeR
Source: Wild Enrichment
This is a creative naturalistic platform feeder that suitable for many small animals. We love the vertical rungs on this feeder because they allow you to use this enrichment for more than just a platform feeder. If you place the vertical rungs closer together, you can stuff the feeder with a mixture of food and substrate. You can also wrap food in leaves or butcher paper and stuff the feeder with that. Or, fill the feeder with wool or shed fur for carnivores!
Hanging Holey Wood Chunk
This is a slight variation from the Hanging Holey Log above, but this is more geared towards smaller animals like otters, raccoons, and birds. Once you've filled the holes with food, you can plug them with leaves or other substrate to increase the challenge!
PIG PUSH LOG
Source: Team Building with BITE
This is a naturalistic enrichment item that is designed to encourage the rooting behavior that's unique to the pig family of animals. It can also be used with other animals, like hoofstock, that are able to push items on the ground. We love that this encourages movement and requires exertion to roll the log!
This is a really creative way to recycle walnut shells to create an naturalistic puzzle feeder for birds and other small animals. You could scale this up and use coconut shells for larger animals, too.
Source: Katie Alexander via Pinterest
What a great way to put food waste to good use! Pineapple tops are a natural material and they're great for hiding bits of food inside. This enrichment is great for smaller animals the way it's shown here, but you can also drench the pineapple top in honey, applesauce, or a scent, and give it to larger animals.
Source: Team Building with BITE
This is a great way to add difficulty to browse presentation, and it's a unique way to encourage movement. This is something that would need to be permanently installed into an exhibit. You could also build other enrichment items to hang from the spinner. Team Building with BITE has so many great build guides for really creative enrichment items--check out their website.
I hope you find this list helpful. If you've built a naturalistic enrichment item, we'd love to see it! Click here to submit your creation to our enrichment database so we can create the most expansive catalogue of enrichment items possible. Contributing to our database means that animals all over the world can benefit from your creation!
If you like this blog post and want to see more content like this, please let us know in the comments. Happy enriching!