EnrichBits: Exhibit Design

EnrichBits: A monthly look at animal enrichment.

The first step in creating an enriching environment (don’t remember what enrichment is? Click here.) for a captive animal is thinking about how that species of animal spends its time in the wild. This summarization of an animal’s labors, actions, and general life is called an ACTIVITY BUDGET. A black bear’s activity budget would tell us how much time a bear spends sleeping, playing, looking for food, etc.

From this activity budget you can work on your Exhibit Design, which is one of the major categories of a good enrichment program. If an animal spends much of its time swimming, you’ll clearly want to put a pool into its captive exhibit. If the animal perches high in trees, you’ll want a lot of sticks and branches of varying heights, textures, and diameters in the cage. If you’re housing a reptile, who is dependent on outside sources of heat to control its body temp, you’ll want to make sure the exhibit is designed with both heat lamps or sunning spots, and cool places. You get the idea. The way an exhibit space is laid out or set up can make a huge difference in the animal’s ability to have choices, challenges, and changes.

Sometimes this is a challenge for keepers and our exhibits team, as we want to meet all of our animals needs, and give it plenty of choices about where to hang out or what to do in its exhibit, and yet keep the animal visible to all our museum guests!

Below are some pics of our black bear exhibit in Explore the Wild. Study them for a few minutes, and see if you can identify specific ways in which it was designed to be a great place for bears.

Note the climbing trees; bears are terrific climbers. There’s lots of open space to run and play, plenty of grass and shrubs to browse on, and smaller logs and rocks to turn over searching for grubs. There are a lot of shady places a bear can snooze–sleeping turns out to be a huge percentage of a wild bear’s life! Black bears are great swimmers- there are actually 3 tiers and a waterfall to this pool. The waterfall is an enriching sound. You can’t see it in the picture, but there’s a rock pile for digging and the surrounding jagged cliff walls keep our younger bears busy with more climbing opportunities.

Next time in EnrichBits: How feeding and foraging is a big part of our Enrichment program.

1 response to EnrichBits: Exhibit Design

  1. It really is amazing how much there is to think about in caring for all of these animals. It’s really great for all of us to have a window to how an animal keeper’s mind needs to work to be good at their jobs. Good post.

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