The search for food and partners is no longer necessary and no one has to hide from enemies: animal life in zoos and animal parks is much more comfortable than in the wild. So that monkeys, otters

Animal keeper Agnetha Weinbrenner throws two water balloons into the pool and the two immediately start swimming. They spin around the balls, grab them, juggle them and try to bring the fish-filled treats to land. Tramp manages to do this quickly and while he is already eating his stint, Susi is still waiting for there to be food that might be easier to eat. And the wait is worth it, there are still a few treats later.

“Susi and Strolch are very fit, very active and agile animals. But we have to look at it realistically: We have an all-inclusive care with full board for our animals,” says veterinarian Annette Klein. And similar to humans, animals could also be very active or tend to laze around. It is important to motivate them to exercise, because animals can also become too fat and get diseases such as diabetes.

Different animals, different strategies

Not all animals are naturally as active as otters. Large ruminants like bison, for example, tend to travel leisurely. “One step is put in front of the other and mumbled, which also corresponds to the natural behavior of the animals,” explains the doctor. Here the animals would be encouraged to move by distributing feeding and watering points throughout the facility in such a way that distances would have to be covered throughout the entire territory. For the predators, it has proven useful to tie the food to higher places. “The animals can’t just lie down and eat, they actually have to climb up somewhere to get to the food,” says the veterinarian.

“Animal movement and animal employment are a central issue when it comes to the well-being and health of wild animals in human care. It’s about ensuring that animals can express their species-specific behaviors and are and remain physically and psychologically fit,” explains Sven Hammer , specialist veterinarian for zoo and wild animals and chairman of the board of the Association of Zoo Veterinarians (VZT). This topic is considered important in many zoological institutions and is implemented accordingly.

“Behavioral Enrichment”

Experts speak of “behavioral enrichment” when it comes to employment programs. According to the Association of Zoological Gardens, rapid development can be observed here and the ideas are almost unmanageable. The range of options extends from expensive play equipment to paper bags containing treats or scents. Behavioral training and even dressage programs with seals or elephants are also variants. “Wherever enrichment programs are implemented, an increase in quality of life is clearly visible,” says the association.

Medical training is also an important part of the work, reports Annette Klein. This prepares the animals for examinations. “The aim is to get an animal to cooperate voluntarily,” says the doctor. Primates now voluntarily present their arms or rear ends when being vaccinated and tigers voluntarily have their blood drawn. This training is an enrichment for the animals, as it also challenges them mentally. “For us as veterinarians, it is a huge benefit if we can train the animals to go to a certain place to be weighed, for example,” says the doctor.

Fasting days for predators

In Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo, care is also taken to ensure that the animals get enough exercise, reports spokeswoman Lisa Reininger. For some animals, this also includes medical training or enrichment, such as scented toys for tigers or a club for polar bears. “But it’s actually the case that the animals move well on their own in their enclosures – it’s important that fasting days are also planned for predators, so that the animals are not permanently “full of food” and therefore become sluggish,” says the speaker.

Socialization, i.e. living together with other species, can also stimulate animals as long as they are social creatures and not loners, explains Annette Klein. On the Otter Island, which opened about six weeks ago, stag boars and crested macaques live in an area of ​​3,000 square meters in addition to dwarf otters. The animals are curious about each other and are therefore regularly out in the area. And finally, varied areas and climbing opportunities are also important.

Climbing trees thanks to muscle mass

Thanks to the climbing trees, the male crested macaque Thore has already gained a lot of muscle mass and is now able to climb three meter high trees. The new arrival from another zoo couldn’t do that a few weeks ago, reports Klein. The 13-year-old is more of the strong variety. “The weight isn’t down, but it’s been redistributed a little. He’s converted fat into muscle mass,” says Klein about the monkey. His body is becoming more defined.

A male deer boar was also unexpectedly active in the area, reports keeper Agnetha Weinbrenner. Several times a day it balances along the stony bank of the approximately 300 square meter pond. This requires a lot of skill and is also a welcome exercise unit, adds Annette Klein.