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What is enrichment and why is it important?

Environmental enrichment, also known as behavioural enrichment, provides species-appropriate challenges, opportunities and stimulation. Environmental enrichment includes the regular provision of dynamic environments, cognitive challenges and social opportunities.
An enriched environment should promote a range of normal behaviours that animals find rewarding as well as allowing animals to positively respond to potential stressors. For example, opportunities to hide or climb away from visitors or more dominant co-specifics.

Why is Enrichment Good?

Animals that have good mental health will engage with their environment more, be less aggressive, less fearful and are more peaceful, exploratory and at ease with their surroundings. Enrichment can support this positive mental welfare and encourages natural behaviours in captive animals.

What is Enrichment Not?

Enrichment is not a substitute for poor enclosure design, a poor diet, lack of healthcare or any other poor management activities. While it is an important aspect of positive animal welfare, alone it cannot compensate for sub-standard care that results in poor welfare. 

How can Enrichment Help?


Enrichment is about creating choices for animals so they feel more in control of their environment.


While some enrichment requires regular changes, some – such as simply providing a species-appropriate environment – can stay the same. Either way, a variety is important to prevent boredom and frustration. 


Enrichment is increasing the complexity of the environment in a way that is meaningful to the animal’s genetic and behavioural needs and addresses species-specific needs.

Take a Look at our Bear Enrichment Portfolio

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Providing enrichment can enhance the zoo environment for an animal, encouraging them to explore and interact with their surroundings. Enrichment also enhances the visitor experience as the animals show more natural behaviours and are much more active.

Enrichment for the animals also enhances the visitor experience as the animals show more natural behaviours and are much more active.

The goal of any enrichment programme should be to develop ideas that will provide a species-appropriate stimulating environment, that promotes positive behaviours, remembering that both species and individuals will have different needs.

We regularly add enrichment ideas and suggestions to this page, often taken from positive enrichment actions that have been put in place as a result of our projects, showing that even facilities with very limited resources and time can apply enrichment activities that promote improved animal welfare.

Take a look at Hose2Habitat’s website for useful ideas on how to create enriching environments for animals using old hoses.

Providing Enrichment – What, Why and When?

Enrichment should be daily and incorporates both infrastructural (which is more permanent) environmental enrichment, such as climbing frames, substrates, water (pools), scratching posts, social opportunities, and daily behavioural enrichment, such as scatter feeding, puzzle feeders, novel toys, olfactory challenges etc. Both enrichment approaches must be to encourage goal orientated behaviours. These behaviours are usually rewarding and positive and animals have evolved to need to carry them out.  For example, multiple climbing platforms in a binturong enclosure, provides choice and satisfies their arboreal behavioural need. Scatter feeding or hiding food in rotten logs for sun bears, satisfies both the digging and foraging behavioural need and meets physiologically evolved behaviours which utilises their strong powerful front paws and sharp claws. 

When deciding what environmental and behavioural enrichment is required, you might want to consider the What, Why, When approach. This is a simple rule of thumb to help you develop an enrichment programme:

1)What does this species spend time and energy on in the wild? The more time and energy spent on a behaviour can indicate how motivated that animal is to carry out the behaviour, and conversely how frustrated it will become if it cannot carry out the behaviour.

2)Why does it carry out this behaviour? This helps prioritise the behaviours, as not all behaviours are equal. If the behaviour is a result of physiological evolution that supports the species and individual survival, it is probably important. Combine this with how much time and energy is spent on the behaviour in the wild, and it can provide guidance on what behaviours to encourage in captivity for positive experiences. 

3) When do species need to express certain behaviours? Animals will have different behavioural needs at different times of the day, season and life cycle. For example, nocturnal animals will need to be more stimulated at night, while pregnant or nursing mothers will require appropriate refuge and young animals will need appropriate social interactions and environmental stimulation for learning.


Our enrichment road map, created in conjunction with Wild Enrichment guides you through the entire process from planning to assessing enrichment provision. It is currently available in the following languages:

Infrastructure & Manipulative Enrichment

Positive interactions with the Environment

Olfactory Enrichment, Gustatory Enrichment

Smells and Taste

Exploratory Enrichment

Changes within the Environment

Some Rules of Enrichment

Always consider the safety of animals and staff before starting an enrichment programme
  • When first introducing new enrichment – ensure enrichment is added to an enclosure slowly to avoid fights or nervousness.
  • Consideration must be given to the age of the animal – consider enrichment that accommodates age-appropriate needs and considers individual needs too.
  • Consideration must be given to social groupings and hierarchy – careful observation can ensure enrichment is given or removed at appropriate times.
  • Be careful when choosing novel foods for enrichment – dietary enrichment consisting of inappropriate food can lead to tooth decay, obesity, allergic reactions, impaction, diarrhoea, choking or aggression from other animals.
  • Always observe new enrichment objects when being used – objects, if broken, can produce sharp edges that can cut animals.
  • Plants or parts of plants may be toxic to animals – prior treatment of plants with pesticides or fire retardant chemicals can be toxic – so all plants must be assessed for natural or man-made toxicity before being used.
  • Be safe at all times – adding enrichment items may put a keeper in a compromised situation if the appropriate due diligence is not followed. The safety of both staff and animals is paramount.
  • Provide enough enrichment – avoid aggression or injuries by providing enough enrichment for all the animals in the group.
  • Parasites may be transmitted through food – all foods must be assessed for likely parasitic activity.
  • Animals should have daily, weekly, monthly and even annual enrichment schedules – plan and document enrichment so that activities can be continually enhanced and improved.
For help developing enrichment at your facility that’s good for the animals and interesting for the visitors too, CONTACT US.

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