One of the main duties of our animal keepers at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC) and Wildlife Release Station (WRS) is to ensure that the rescued animals in their care are happy and are exhibiting the same behaviors that they would in the wild. Attending to an animal’s psychological needs is arguably equally as important as mending the animal’s physical conditions. While an animal is at one of our rescue centers, we do our best to stimulate the behavioral instincts and characteristics it would exhibit it was in the wild. This is known as animal enrichment.
Enrichment includes finding ways to change up the animals’ living space, providing toys that will keep them active, giving them more control and independence, stimulating their senses, and more. Enrichment aims to increase desirable and normal behaviors for a given species and to decrease undesirable behaviors that may be harmful to the animal or to other animals it meets, such as self-inflicted injuries or hyper-aggression. Enrichment is equally important the animals who found a permanent home at our rescue center and for the animals who will be released into the wild and need to practice the skills they need to survive.
Our keepers work hard to create novel and creative enrichment tools in attempts to simulate the animal’s natural environment, which will consequently bring out its natural behaviors. For our felines that rely heavily on scents for determining territories and for hunting prey, we focus a lot on olfactory stimulations. Olfactory enrichment involves the introduction of new scents, such as spices or perfumes, to their environment. One of the clouded leopards in our care, Popork, uses his keen sense of smell to find food that his keeper hides around his enclosure every day. Popork is also quite partial to shredding any towels or old t-shirts his caretakers let him get his claws into.
Play is particularly important in reducing stress brought about by boredom. To encourage play and activeness, we construct a lot of different toys for our rescued animals. From a simple water jug filled with food for monkeys to tires for elephants to flip and roll to all sized swings and hammocks. We have recently built a waterfall slide for our smooth coated otters to slide down. This gives them a new and exciting environmental object that keeps them active and happy.
We also build new objects to encourage animals to practice foraging. Our pangolins at WRS are brought termite mounds weekly. This not only helps stimulate the animals in their enclosure, but it also helps the captive born and rescued pangolins practice foraging behaviors they will need when they are released into the wild.