The Benefits Of Enrichment At The Great Orangutan Project - In The Project Coordinator's Own Words!

The Benefits Of Enrichment At The Great Orangutan Project - In The Project Coordinator's Own Words!

Posted by Bronwyn Browning on Mar 21, 2018

The project coordinator at The Great Orangutan Project recently got in touch to enlighten us about all the different types of enrichment that are used at the sanctuary (provided by volunteers of course!) and how much it benefits the great apes. Bronwyn is responsible for all volunteers at The Great Orangutan Project, and she makes sure that all activities run smoothly and that the animals are well cared for. There are various types of enrichment that are provided to the animals, and volunteers help to make and distribute this. Volunteers then get to enjoy watching the great apes (and various other species which come into the sanctuary) interact with this enrichment, and what we have learned is that they use it in their own innovative ways that volunteers and project staff had never thought of!

Check out how enrichment works at The Great Orangutan Project in Bron's own words below!

"Enrichment is a crucial part of what volunteers do. Providing enrichment is a way to ensure that captive animals remain both physically fit and mentally healthy. Enrichment can achieve these outcomes by providing the animal with an environment that allows them to express natural behaviours and spend their time in as natural a way as possible.

Volunteers At The Great Orangutan Project

In most cases, captivity places unnatural constraints on an animal and its ability to use its full cognitive capacity and display natural behaviours. If no effort is made to use environmental enrichment to compensate for the shortfalls of captivity, the animal is likely to become bored and incredibly stressed as a result. When this happens, the animal may begin to develop stereotypical and other abnormal behaviours as a way of coping with their mental anguish. Stereotypical behaviours are defined as repetitive behaviours that do not serve any adaptive function; common examples include pacing back and forth, head bobbing or flicking, and self-injurious behaviours. Once an animal develops stereotypes, they tend to persist over time. However, providing an enriching environment often prevents these behaviours from appearing and can significantly reduce the incidence of these behaviours in individuals who have developed stereotypes.

Enrichment improves the physical and mental health of captive animals, and as such is just as critical to maintaining good holistic health and welfare, as is good nutrition and veterinary care.

sun bears at The Great Orangutan Project

A type of enrichment we use here is bubble enrichment. Whilst things like playing with bubbles obviously aren’t something a wild animal would naturally come across, these types of novel enrichments serve to elicit play and interest in an incredibly intelligent animal. If enrichments are safe, interesting, and keep the animal engaged and occupied, then we will do as many different things as we can to keep it interesting for them and to stave off boredom.

Enrichments like this tend to have a tremendously positive knock-on effect. When enrichment elicits a playful response, the animals tend to engage positively and playfully with other members of their group for the rest of the day.

Orangutans Playing At The Great Orangutan Project

When enrichment has lots of interesting layers and colours and textures then the orangutans especially will repurpose the items long after they have torn the parcels apart to get to the food. For example, sheets get used as rain hats or sponges to soak up water from the pond and so on."

Below you will see some of the animals at the sanctuary interacting with different types of enrichment!

 

Bubble Enrichment At The Great Orangutan Project

"This is Simangan enjoying some bubble enrichment! This is an example of the 'elicit play' type of enrichment that has previously been discussed. Many of the orangutans love bubbles, we have a few bubble wands and machines so we take them up to the viewing platforms and the vols get to make bubbles for the apes. The orangutans like to chase the bubbles and catch them (usually in their mouths) so we always make sure the solution is non-toxic.

Aman at The Great Orangutan Project

This is the legendary Aman with a boomer ball. These are extremely hard plastic balls. They are hollow and we drill small holes in them. We then fill them with special treats such as nuts and raisins. The orangutans then have to manipulate the ball carefully in order to get the treats to fall out. I’ve also seen Aman use the ball to massage his shoulders. It’s quite common that the animals find another use for enrichment that we hadn’t even thought of!

Sun Bear Enrichment At The Great Orangutan Project

Panda the sun bear clearly enjoys this type of enrichment too!

Orangutan Enrichment At The Great Orangutan Project

This is Ohm, who in this picture is in fact making his own enrichment. These pictures were taken shortly after volunteers finished construction of a new enclosure - with Ohm watching through the windows the whole time! Therefore, when he was let into the enclosure he mimicked the cement mixing activities that he’s watched the vols doing!

Aman With Enrichment At The Great Orangutan Project

The picture above shows the centre's Christmas enrichment activy. Volunteers stitched a Christmas stocking and then filled it with lots of intricate parcels. Aman is extremely meticulous and he enjoys taking his time to unwrap layer after layer so we always make sure we use lots of different things and interesting colours and textures in the parcels. Usually the innermost parcel has some special food in it, but Aman seems to enjoy the unwrapping as much as he does the food reward.

 

The Great Orangutan Project

This is Doc using ropes to climb across his enclosure. Ropes encourage the orangutans to move across the enclosure in a much more natural way, and the positioning of the ropes is changed regularly by staff and volunteers to keep it new and interesting.

These jungle-gym-type rope structures are a constant source of entertainment for the orangutans and the youngsters will often hang upside down and wrestle each other whilst hanging off the ropes with their feet - all great exercise, and all natural behaviour!

Sun Bear Playing At The Great Orangutan Project

This is Baby with some enrichment: In this enrichment, volunteers have sawed up pieces of a small fallen tree and then drilled holes in it. The holes have then been filled with porridge and the entire thing has been frozen to turn it into a challenging ice block treat. Bears just love to play with logs and sticks. From a very young age they start to rip sticks and logs apart. This is because bears eat ants, termites, beetles and so on, all of which can be found in rotten wood so they are hardwired to destroy whatever wood they find because it might contain a tasty treat!!"

 

Seeing how these orangutans interact with the enrichment that is provided for them by our incredible volunteers is a great example of just how intelligent these animals are. That Aman has the intellect to acknowledge that a solid makes for a great massaging device is simply awe-inspiring, and helps to stress the importance of preserving these simply amazing animals. If you want to see these animals in action, and help to provide them with a happy and stimulating life, then send us an enquiry on the project page to find out more about the project and begin the process of your conservation journey!


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Michelle Magee commented 1 month ago
Hi Bronwen. I was at Metang in January so didn't get to meet you. I found this article on enrichment very interesting. It's so rewarding watching the animals make use of the enrichment projects we made as volunteers.
I hope everybody (human and otherwise) is in good health and I think of you all often.

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