The Curious Mouse
The Research Center on Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Africa is home to Cairo spiny mice. Since Cairo spiny mice are near the bottom of the food chain, they often seek shelter in rock crevices or cracked soil. They are very curious, active animals, especially when provided with novel items in their habitat. Providing a variety of places to hide while making exhibit props changes is one of the keys to helping the mice feel comfortable in their space. Hiding spots are designed using propped up flat pieces of cork bark, cardboard tubes, hollow logs, and browse. These offer the mice cozy places to sleep, nest, and travel to other sides of their exhibit. Different materials, such as pieces of wood or rocks provide a selection of textures to explore. On really hot days, rocks that have been chilling in the refrigerator are offered as an option. Sometimes, the mice will lay on top of the cool rocks or gravitate to the area nearby for the cooler temperatures. Mice also have a keen sense of smell. Fresh bedding or the addition of an item rotated from a different area provide novel odors which often encourages exploration.
Most small mammals have a very high metabolism to keep up their high energy level (this means they really like to eat). Instead of offering all of their food in a dish, food manipulation is a great way to encourage activity while eating. Their daily diet consist of pellets and they receive rotating types of fresh fruits, vegetables, and seeds throughout the week. Scattering food encourages them to forage throughout their entire habitat. Providing food by hiding it in boxes, wrapping it up in paper towels, or attaching it on high exhibit props adds to the complexity of working to acquire their food. Most small mammals are omnivores and will hunt for live bugs added to their enclosure. Trying to catch a moving food item is a challenge! Nearly all small mammals love running wheels, including the more exotic species like Cairo spiny mice and hedgehogs. These are offered to increase activity and provide an opportunity for exercise. Mice really enjoy shredding things to add to their nest or to wear down their teeth, so adding objects such as cardboard, paper, roses, hay, grass flats, and fresh sticks will provide opportunities for these behaviors. Since mice are naturally curious this makes the possibilities for enrichment endless!