One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Or in this case, animal’s treasure. Repurposing materials can be an easy to obtain and cost effective form of enrichment for a variety of animal species. After paving the roads on the savannahs of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge the animal care staff was left with loads of extra dirt that could have easily been hauled off with the construction crew.
However, based off the natural history of hoofstock such as Hartman’s mountain zebra, wildebeest, and Somali wild ass the animal care team decided to convert the excess dirt into several mounds in the different exhibit spaces with the goal of encouraging natural behaviors such as dust bathing. They didn’t expect it to have such a profound effect on almost all of the animals. The zebra bathed in the dirt, the Ankole cattle rested on the cooler dirt, the East African crowned cranes dug through it in search of insects, and occasionally the Somali wild ass took part in a game of “King of the Hill”.
Over the years the team implemented a few different tactics to ensure the dirt piles remain novel and continue to encourage behaviors from the animals. Aside from turning the piles over every other week to keep their shape, they’ve added new substrates to the original dirt, novel plants and insects. They also transport the dirt between the different savannah exhibits to add novel scents from other animals and areas.
Even though the mounds of dirt have been on the savannahs for years, they continue to enhance the mixed species exhibits. They draw a variety of animals to use them, some which may be challenging to see otherwise, and encourage the animals to use the substrate in novel ways. What once started as a simple pile of dirt about to be hauled off turned into a long-term success for this mixed species exhibit. So before heading off to look for an elaborate, new enrichment device, don’t hesitate to start with what is already right in front of you!