Developing and Maintaining a Program

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Today, animal enrichment programs are goal-oriented in their design and integrated into how animals are managed on a day to day basis.  A well-executed enrichment program should involve a solid framework, staff training, and most importantly, effective leadership.

Isolated enrichment initiatives do not constitute an institution-wide program.  Simply identifying a staff position (e.g, Enrichment and Training Coordinator) does not constitute a program.  Whether your institution has established an enrichment program or is just developing one it is important to review all facets of the program on a regular basis.

The importance of developing a philosophy

The base of an institution’s enrichment program should start with the development of the philosophy.  A clear vision of a philosophy provides stability, continuity, and long-term guidance to your animal enrichment programs.  A well-defined philosophy can help an institution remained focused on their goals.  The development of the philosophy should involve input from all partners involved in the program (e.g., animal care staff, veterinarian, nutritionist, and scientists).  Your philosophy should be the foundation on which your program is based.  Link to Behavioral Husbandry Philosophy.

Creating roles and expectations

The creation of individual roles and expectations for your animal enrichment program is crucial to the overall productive function and success.  When roles and expectations are clearly defined, staff can understand, respect, and value the unique contributions of each role and utilize those partnerships to achieve greater results.  All roles in your institution should recognize that the overall success of the animal enrichment program is a function of everyone’s responsibility.  Teams function most efficiently when members share a common understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.  A lack of clarity among staff regarding roles and expectations is one reason an enrichment program can fail.  A team is most successful when they are working together to accomplish their mission, goals, and objectives while upholding their philosophy.  There is better communication and greater productivity with less confusion, disappointment, and frustration.   We have included our staff’s commitments and specific roles each partner plays in our enrichment program.

Developing a framework

When designing an enrichment program it is important to follow a process that provides a roadmap to the destination.  A process or framework can be used to develop and maintain an enrichment program at a zoo or aquarium.  The goal of a framework is to provide zoos and aquariums with various concepts to consider in developing an enrichment program.  There is no simple standardized approach to enrichment; each facility needs to design a process that works best for them.  The SPIDER framework, developed at Disney, is outlined here.  We outline how we use the framework to best fit our facility’s needs.

Setting goals

Setting behavioral goals for your animal collection will be based on the needs of your institution.  Biological, social and cognitive needs should be the priority in the development of behavioral goals.  These goals should be made in partnership with animal care staff, veterinarian, nutritionist and scientist.  Goals should take into account the typical activity budget for the animal.  Something else to consider is the frequency and variety of behaviors for an animal in a typical day, week, month or year could vary considerably. 

When we talk about setting behavioral goals, we ask that animal care staff consider all of the components that make up a behavior.  For example, to encourage hunting, we want to promote the behaviors that may occur during hunting such as listening, stalking, chasing, running, pouncing, diving, jumping and catching. Then, we think about how to encourage all of those behaviors in one enrichment initiative.  Thinking deeper about the goal behaviors of our enrichment initiatives provides more opportunities for animals to display the entire repertoire of species appropriate behaviors and creates a more complex and dynamic environment.   Link to goal setting questions

 Maintenance of a program

Once an enrichment program has been developed, in order to maintain its success all aspects of the program should be reviewed on a regular basis.  This includes review of documents such as philosophy, roles, and goals.  Review of processes and procedures with staff is necessary to ensure they are being utilized, utilized properly, are efficient, and meeting the needs of teams.  Courses taught to staff should be updated on a regular basis, making sure they are current with scientific practices and current topics in the animal enrichment industry.  Conducting surveys with staff is one way to learn the needs and areas for improvement within the program.