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Enrichment Programs for Animals in Zoos & Aquariums

by Dennis ODonnell on April 29, 2020

Animals living in zoos and aquaria need more than just their basic needs met–they also need enrichment.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Behavioral Advisory Group defines enrichment as, “a process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history.” They go on to say that enrichment “is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare.”

For the welfare of the animals, it pays to visit zoos and aquariums that invest in enrichment. Here are two zoos and one aquarium doing it right:

Fort Worth Zoo

At this Texas zoo, the Animal Enrichment Program “is designed to provide our animals with opportunities to express natural, species-appropriate behaviors, whether it be foraging, exploring, playing, or simply resting comfortably.” Led by the Conservation and Behavior department, the animals’ caretakers are provided with new opportunities and variety for enrichment every day. The program’s goals include getting the animals more exercise, allowing them to express their natural behaviors, and provide mental stimulation. The zoo maintains a wish list for donation items, too, which range from baskets to bubbles.

St. Louis Zoo

This midwestern zoo focuses on both the physical and psychological enrichment of their animals. Their emphasis? Mimicking the animals’ natural habitat with their home at the zoo. The St. Louis Zoo Enrichment Committee creates “goal-oriented programs [that] are based on the animals’ natural biology, and provides species specific, naturalistic environments, mental and physical stimulation, choices, and a variety of opportunities for individuals and the interactions between individuals.” Check out their videos on YouTube, including this “spa day” bubble bath for orangutans and chimps!

Tennessee Aquarium

Located in Chattanooga, the animal husbandry staff at this bustling aquarium works daily to stimulate and nurture the animals in their care. It’s part of their core mission: “Enrichment is one of the most important ways the Tennessee Aquarium provides extraordinary animal care.” Whether it’s bubble play for penguins, or toys for the otters, they strive to provide dynamic environments for their animals.

Before you take a trip to visit a local zoo or aquarium, check out their website to see what kinds of enrichment programs are offered. You might be able to surprise a happy penguin with a donation of a bottle of bubbles!


Photo credit: St. Louis Zoo website


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