Zoo residents wild about gifts
By BILL WARNER
Updated: 01/05/2010 10:35:04 AM EST
By BILL WARNER
HERSHEY – They pounced on their presents and ripped them open, paying no attention to how the gifts were wrapped and the special greetings written on the package.
Sounds like your kids on Christmas morning?
Actually, these “kids” are the animals that make their home at ZooAmerica. And this scene was played out several times last week as young children enrolled in a program titled Wild Winter Adventure helped make holiday treats for the animals while learning how the zoo’s residents adapt to winter conditions.
Wild Winter Adventure is part of a broader enrichment program at the zoo. Enrichment opportunities for the animals are planned throughout the year and usually involve food or something that will stimulate activity and make the animals happy.
“Enrichment is important in zoos,” said Natalie Belfanti, an educator who’s been employed at ZooAmerica for 10 years. “We want to stimulate (the animals) so they don’t get bored. It’s extremely important for their health.”
Last week, the kids attending Wild Winter Adventure, ranging from kindergarten through third grade, got a hands-on look at enrichment activities. They mixed apples and grapes in a cardboard box that was gift-wrapped and later given to Butch, one of the zoo’s black bears. The kids wrote their names and messages for Butch on the box. On this day, edible treats were also given to the zoo’s bobcats and gray wolves.
A different kind of treat was delivered to the Canadian lynx, a pair of big gray cats who were attracting a lot of attention. With the guidance of Belfanti and naturalist Ann Holzman, the kids gathered twigs and placed them in a pair of plastic bags. Staff members added a few drops of beaver scent to make things interesting, then the bags were hung on tree limbs inside the pen. Within moments, the curious lynx were leaping and swatting at the bags.
Meanwhile, Butch wasn’t as energetic with his gift. He ripped off the top of the box, then lazily stuck his snoot inside to eat. The kids who made the treat were happy that Butch liked his gift.
During the program, Belfanti said, the kids learned what animals do in the winter and why enrichment is important.
“Enrichment is a daily thing. It could be a different food or it could be a different toy,” Belfanti said. “It could be as simple as something new in their setting. Enrichment could even be feeding them at a different time of day. The main idea is to keep (the animals) stimulated.
“And the kids really enjoy being a part of the enrichment … that they had a part in making the animals happy.”
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Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org
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