One of the newest additions to Disney’s Animal Kingdom®, Spotted Hyenas are intelligent animals that are a fun yet challenging species when providing enrichment due to their tendency to destroy and consume any additions to their environment. Their powerful jaw strength and ability to digest bone requires that any items they interact with meet a high standard of durability! Most items approved for the hyenas are first observed closely for a trial period to ensure they can safely and positively engage with the enrichment before it is given unsupervised.
Almost every day, we observe our male hyena caching food or high value enrichment items in his water tubs to retrieve at a later time while hiding them temporarily from the more dominant female. Spotted hyenas naturally cache items in water in the wild, a behavior unique to this species when compared to the striped or brown hyenas which mostly cache food in the dirt or bush. To encourage the caching, activity and play behaviors, tough solid plastic balls are offered in a variety of ways including in a pool or smeared with blood or peanut butter. Paper boxes, empty grain bags, or phone books offer the animals something to shred. They enjoy carrying the items around and waving them in front of their conspecifics, encouraging play. These items are especially enticing when presented with food inside, or tied up in different locations using umbrella sage plants which are safe for the animals.
Another favorite enrichment item for the hyenas is used hay bedding or plants from various hoofstock species. The hyena share an exhibit and holding space with African wild dogs– just not at the same time. Rotating these two animals between these spaces provides opportunities for the hyenas to scent roll and scent mark with their anal glands when smelling these other animals whom they would naturally encounter in the wild. The addition of perfumes, extracts or spices also encourages similar behaviors.
Different presentations of their food items encourage the hyenas to use their problem solving abilities to get to their food. Scatter feeders are used for scattering kibble on exhibit at set times, offering flexibility and randomization throughout the day and night. Other options include scattered mice or chicks on exhibit, the opportunity to cool down while consuming frozen ice blocks containing bones, blood, peanut butter, goat’s milk, or low-sodium chicken broth. Mealworms and crickets are given as a moving food item that can be tricky to catch. Providing these intelligent, complex animals with novel choices in their environment encourages a wide variety of natural behaviors.