Enrichment keeps Mich. zoo animals’ minds sharp

Tom Lambert
Lansing State Journal
Published April 20, 2007

The ring-tailed lemurs contorted their bodies as they grabbed, lunged and tugged at the carton containing their food, much to the delight of the schoolchildren on hand at a recent visit to Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo.

Meanwhile in another part of the zoo, Sivaki, a 2-year-old tiger, glided around his cage as he stalked his hidden food.

After some effort, they both were successful in hunting down their prize: bananas, apples and grapes for the monkeys, and “bloodsicles” – a mixture of frozen blood and meat- for Sivaki.

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It was all part of an exercise the zoo puts the animals through frequently to sharpen their mental skills while giving them a good workout.

“It’s like simulating they are out in the wild, and they have to hunt their food down, ” said Jan Brigham, a zookeeper at Potter Park for 31 years.

“We want to make it harder than usual for them to get their food. It keeps them mentally and physically fresh.”

Annie MacFadden, a volunteer at the zoo, also was training Little Girl – a snow leopard nearly 7 years old. Through a series of clicks, Little Girl is rewarded for doing things such as jumping up on her hind legs to climbing up her cage.

“When she hears the clicks, she knows she is doing the right things,” MacFadden said while holding the instrument making the noise.

The trust built between the two allows her and the zoo’s veterinarian to perform tasks on Little Girl that include trimming her nails, drawing blood and hooking her up to an ultrasound system to determine if she is pregnant.

The zoo will expand on the program by hosting an event at 1 p.m. Saturday, when 12 species, including wolves and otters, will search for hard-boiled eggs.

“It’s like their own Easter egg hunt,” said Jill Garnett, a docent at the zoo. “It should be fun for audiences to watch.”

Contact Tom Lambert at 377-1063 or tlambert@lsj.com.

http://www.lsj.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070420/ NEWS01/704200345/1001/opinion

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