The Edmonton Valley Zoo is showcasing its enrichment garden, part of a new program that offers animals more than water, food and shelter.
“Part of our mandate here is to make sure all our animals here get enrichment. One of the ways we do it is through food,” says Wade Krasnow, team leader of Animal Care at the Valley Zoo.
“We’ve got some tomatoes, some pansies, chives, some lamb’s ears,” explains zookeeper Hannah Anderson.
“Some of them they’ll eat, some of it will be more of a sensory enrichment. They can smell it, touch it, see what it feels like.”
The Valley Zoo team has spent the last several months adding enrichment to the animals’ lives. That means, offering an environment that is stimulating, active, and engaging – more than the basics.
“It just makes their day happy, gives them something to think about, just something different than the everyday,” adds Anderson. “A lot of the fruit and vegetable diets we give them are actually enrichment in themselves, so just adding a little extra to that.”
Zoo officials say enrichment is vital to every animal’s wellbeing, whether they’re wild or tame.
“Enrichment is not a luxury for animals anymore, it’s mandatory,” says Krasnow. “You have to do it whether you’re in a zoo or whether you’re at home.”
“It’s very important to have enrichment in their daily lives.”
Enrichments can be objects, sounds, smells or tastes that add a little something extra to the animals’ day.
New this year is the enrichment garden. The zoo partnered with Salisbury Greenhouse to start its own garden to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs that will provide that extra little boost.
“So we came up with the idea within the committee to start this enrichment garden here with all kinds of different vegetables and some herbs in it,” says Krasnow. “We harvest the garden and we give it to the animals.”
“This year, was sort of experimental, and I think they learned a lot,” explains Anderson. She says the herbs were really popular, especially the mint and thyme.
Herbs are used as scent stimulation for the animals as well as in their diets.
Next year, zoo officials say they’ll adjust their crop a little; planting more lettuce and herbs, and focusing on some of the more popular produce.
“Lots of the primates like corn,” laughs Anderson, “right off of the cob.”
“We have about seven different tortoises here that like to eat those flowers,” she adds, “also for some of our primates… any given day, they may choose to eat them or just throw them around.”
Anderson says some crops are better received than others. Tomatoes weren’t the favourite food this year, and sometimes, an item that may have been intended for diets ends up becoming more of a visual stimulus or for entertainment.
“Sometimes it’s successful, sometimes it’s not,” admits Krasnow.
The point, he says, is to let the animals explore different environments, textures, smells, and tastes, but he stresses it doesn’t have to be eaten to qualify as enrichment.
“They react in different ways. Some react indifferently, some gobble it up right away, some rub it on themselves. It just depends on the animal.”
Moving forward, Krasnow hopes to expand the garden and the variety of crops it offers the animals.
“The animals, especially the primates and some of the other animals like the wolves, have gotten a lot of different fresh vegetables. We hope to expand this garden in the future.”
“Lucy would really love bamboo if we could get it here.”
The zoo team says another benefit of growing its own produce on site is that it’s guaranteed to be fresh and pesticide free.
“We do buy a lot of produce for the animals, and we do get a lot donated, but we want to produce more ourselves because we know it’s fresh and it doesn’t have any pesticides on it,” says Krasnow.
“We have been able to give the animal a lot of different types of enrichments than we have in the past,” he says. “It’s been an amazing success.”
With files from Shane Jones