Cedric the wattled crane wants a xylophone. And Fintan the lion? Axe body spray.
These are the items on Hollie Ross’s Christmas shopping list. Each year, the Toronto Zoo’s behavioural husbandry supervisor gathers a list of items put together by zookeepers and posts them to the zoo’s website, hoping secret Santas will step up with the cash to fund another year of specialized toys for the animals in their care.
The zookeepers make their requests based on research, observation and knowledge of their charges. It’s part of the rapidly growing field of animal enrichment, which seeks to keep animals not only well-fed and well-housed, but also interested in their environment, to prevent them from becoming bored.
“Our toys are usually for mammals, birds and some reptiles, but every animal on site has some form of enrichment,” says Ross.
“Even our bird-eating spider has an enriched environment.”
Zookeepers use the hula hoops to create underwater playgrounds for the penguins. They can also string fire hoses underwater, weighing them down at different levels to create fake kelp forests. They use the same techniques to keep otters amused.
Like most parents at Christmas, Ross hits up Walmart, Toys R Us and Amazon for toys and keeps an eye out for sales, but toys for big mammals are specialty-built, with added resistance to fangs and claws.
The Toronto Zoo launched the Giving Tree in 2018, allowing visitors to contribute toward a toy for a zoo animal and in exchange, receive an ornament they could give as a gift. The first year raised $3,000. Sales jumped after the program was moved online in 2019, generating $14,000 last year.
Zoo animals are given toys all year-round — the Christmas angle is to generate public interest in the idea of animal enrichment.
Jeff Otto says the field of animal enrichment has been growing at a rate of about 10 per cent a year since he founded Otto Environmental in 1995. The Milwaukee-based firm sells a range of animal equipment, enclosures and toys, including chew tires that can stand up to tigers, tipsy tops for bears that move unpredictably — like prey in the wild — and wobbly weebles for elephants, that stand 36-inches high and weigh 90 kilograms. Prices range widely, from inexpensive chew toys to more than $1,200 for something that can withstand a grizzly.
Otto says U.S. National Institutes of Health regulations and updates mandating animal enrichment over the years helped launch and sustain the trend. He believes interest is also being fuelled by the popularity of nature shows like the BBC’s “Our Planet” and by the ubiquity of cellphones equipped with cameras, which have made it possible for anyone who happens to be in the right place at the right time to capture animal behaviours and share them on social media platforms, where they are viewed by millions.
Toy development is based on animal behaviours in the wild — and more anecdotal and scientific information is being added to that body of knowledge each year.
Orangutans in the wild have been observed making improvised whistles from bundles of leaves; gorillas use walking sticks; octopuses use coconut shells as armour. The evidence has encouraged zookeepers to think more broadly in terms of animal environments and to consider what toys may help them express their natural behaviours.
For example, the new orangutan exhibit at the Toronto Zoo, scheduled to open next spring, will include a vending machine. Tokens for the vending machine will be hidden in their enclosure, forcing the orangutans to forage for the tokens, which they will then have to use on the machine to get their food. Zookeeper Amanda Carroll says the activity will help the orangutans stay curious and active.
The orangutans also like combs; they like painting their faces with chalk; they love to drape fabrics over their heads — all items on their 2021 Christmas list.
The zoo is looking at introducing Cecil the crane to a xylophone, in part based on evidence that hens find xylophones interesting — Amazon even sells xylophones specially made for chicken coops.
And while Fintan loves Axe, Kanzi the spotted hyena loves Calvin Klein’s Obsession.
“I don’t know what it is about Obsession, but it seems to be a universal favourite for big cats,” said Ross. “They actually use it in the wild for camera traps.”
The scents trigger a natural olfactory response in the cats, seen in the wild, but also in their domesticated counterparts.
The animal enrichment trend is also driving sales at pet stores.
“I do see it as a growth sector,” says Ruth Heathcote, owner of Wag on the Danforth.
“I think that people see that their animals actually need to be engaged. They need some sort of stimulus in order to have a fulfilled life.”div">>Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF
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Source : https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/11/26/why-the-toronto-zoo-wants-you-to-get-its-lion-axe-body-spray-for-christmas.html1109