​​​2 Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem
Episode 8: Behavioral Enrichment  
1 June 2018
At a wildlife sanctuary, it's important to keep the animals both physically and mentally healthy, and behavioral enrichment is one of our key tools.

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JENNY>> Welcome to Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary. Now here’s your host, Gary Robson:

LES>> Okay, Gary, what have we got going on today?

GARY>> Today, we’re talking about something called behavioral enrichment.

LES>> Behavioral enrichment? Okay.

GARY>> So instead of a particular animal, a way of dealing with animals. Actually, bringing the topic to the radio came about because I was listening to a Science Friday podcast last month and they were talking about that story we all grew up with about how your brain cells don’t regenerate and over the course of your life you’re just losing brain cells.
LES>> I’m sure of that.

GARY>> Well, a researcher decided to take a close look at that, and found out it’s kind of true.

LES>> Only half-heartedly true?

GARY>> It’s kind of like your muscles: if you don’t use 'em, you lose 'em. What she found was if you are actively socializing and learning new things, then your brain cells are regenerating. Maybe not at the same rate as when you were a teenager, but they definitely are still regenerating.

In animals, this carries forward in something we call behavioral enrichment. It started out, it was in 1950, that a researcher at the Zurich Zoo realized animals seemed to be healthier was suitable as opposed to being bigger. Up until then, the idea had been if you want your animals to be happy, you give them lots and lots of space. But now they make that space match what they would have in the wild.

LES>> Okay.

GARY>> Getting into the 1960s, there was another researcher that started looking into animal behavior and lifespan and found that if they’re given the opportunity to mimic the behavior that they do in the wild, they’ll be healthier and live longer. They coined the term “contrafreeloading.” Given a choice between free food and food they have to work for, animals — wild animals — will take the food they have to work for.

And so we’ve carried that forward in wildlife sanctuaries and zoos and other facilities where we don’t just put the food in a dish and put it in the same place every morning; that’s not how wild animals eat.

LES>> They have to work for it, then?

GARY>> They have to work for it. We spread the food around the enclosure, we hide it. Some of the smarter animals, like our raccoon out there, she’ll actually have to solve puzzle boxes to get her food sometimes. It keeps their minds alert, keeps them healthy, keeps them going longer, and it’s especially important for some of the animals that can’t mimic all of their wild behaviors.

A zoo decides, “we want a tiger,” and they go buy a young, healthy, pretty tiger and put it on display. At the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary, we get animals that can’t be released into the wild. So we bring in a bird that can’t fly, a bird with broken wings, it’s important to give it a chance to mimic other wild behaviors, like the ravens having an opportunity to hide their food. Caching food is a big thing for ravens.

By using behavioral enrichment throughout the facility, we’re keeping the animals healthier, happier, and living longer, which is what we’re all about as a sanctuary.

LES>> All right. Sounds great, Gary. Well, this is behavioral — what was it?

GARY>> Behavioral enrichment.

LES>> Behavioral enrichment.

GARY>> And make sure next week, you’re wearing the hat that you were wearing last week.

LES>> Okay.

GARY>> Because our topic next week is vultures.

LES>> Okay. I’ll do that!

JENNY>> Thanks for joining us for Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem, sponsored by the Yellowstone Wildlife Sanctuary in Red Lodge, Montana. This podcast updates every Friday on iTunes, YellowstoneEcosystem.com, and the Sanctuary’s website, YellowstoneWildlifeSanctuary.org.

Thanks to our recording partners at FM99: the Mountain, where you can hear this show live every Wednesday at 8:22 a.m.

I’m your announcer, Jenny Van Ooyen, and I hope you’ll join me next week for another episode of Two Minutes in the Yellowstone Ecosystem!    

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