What Is Enrichment? Learn About This Vital Part of Orangutan Rehabilitation!

What Is Enrichment? Learn About This Vital Part of Orangutan Rehabilitation!

Posted by Leanne Sturrock on 9th Nov 2016

In line with our new and exciting competition (in which you can win a trip to the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Project in Borneo – more on that later!), today’s blog will focus on the ever-important principle of enrichment. When it comes to orangutans specifically, enrichment is a fundamental part of their survival – but what exactly is there to know about this key part of our conservation efforts? To give you the best chance of winning a spot on this amazing conservation project, we’ve written up some important information designed to help you along the way. So check out the blog below, get involved, and maybe we’ll see you over in Borneo!

What is enrichment?

By definition, enrichment is a key husbandry principle that seeks to enhance the quality of animal care, whether in zoos, sanctuaries or any other similar facility. Enrichment is typically offered as an element of rehabilitation, and it provides integral environmental stimuli necessary for both the mental and physical well-being of an animal. Enrichment can include an array of activities, from sensory stimuli and social interaction, to puzzles and manipulation exercises (in which the animal can use its hands, paws or feet to solve obstacles, or break open items to obtain the reward inside.) The idea is, with rewards at the end, the animal will be encouraged to carry out these enrichment activities and, in turn, make advancements in not only their health, but in their relationship with their environment.

Why is it important?

Perhaps more than with any other animal, enrichment really is valuable to the life of an orangutan. The species is under constant threat due to deforestation, poaching and hunting, with hundreds of orangutans being killed or displaced every year. Many of the young orangutans are taken away from their natural habitats at infancy, meaning that they miss out on vital survival techniques normally derived from their mothers.

Due to the loss of both their habitats and mothers, orangutans can be very disorientated and fearful. It’s the duty of conservationists to provide a safe haven for the orangutans, as well as the necessary skills that these poor animals will require for their own chance of survival. This is where enrichment comes in. By encouraging natural behaviours (such as feeding, problem solving and orientation of their environments), enrichment offers a choice of control to the animals, and provides them with various techniques that inspire positive engagement with their surroundings – therefore, enriching the lives of these beloved creatures.


Methods currently used

There are numerous enrichment methods used at Samboja Lestari (though the sanctuary is always on the lookout for more!) For now, though, we’ll talk you through some of the top methods and materials used already:

Bamboo: Since bamboo grows abundantly in Borneo (and, crucially, is 100% natural/biodegradable!), it’s no surprise that the shoots seemed like an obvious addition to the project’s enrichment arsenal. The hollow centres of bamboo are stuffed with fruits and nuts (both of which are delicious treats for the orangs!), and the addition of banana leaves acts as a barrier between ape and reward. In the wild, orangutans would use their fingers and sticks to prise termites out of mounds, which they would then chow down on…the bamboo replaces the mound, and the fruit replaces the termites, but they still give the orangutan an opportunity to use their natural behaviours, with a tasty treat guaranteed at the end of the activity!

Ice blocks: Another simple yet genius method used at Samboja is the use of ice blocks. Pieces of fruit are frozen in plastic bags, and the ice cold lollies (minus the plastic bags of course) are then given to the orangs…who then must figure out how to get to the delicious snack inside! This particular activity acts as a great stimulus for the senses: sight, smell, taste and touch are all utilised here, and the promise of food at the end of the activity encourages the orangutan to try, try and try again.

Environmental obstacles: By putting structures of varying complexity into the orangutan’s enclosure, the apes are encouraged to interact with these obstacles and therefore will learn natural behaviours, such as swinging from branches (replicated by tyre swings), foraging (reflected in the use of cardboard boxes, in which food is stored for the orangutans to find) and other such activities. The ‘obstacles’ are designed to be both enjoyable and rewarding, therefore enforcing positive mental and physical wellbeing for the animals!

Now that you’re a little more informed on the importance of enrichment, it’s time to get involved with the cause! From November up until March 2017, we will be accepting submissions of creative enrichment ideas – these can come in the form of drawings or even hand-crafted examples, with a video explaining how your enrichment idea will work. Basically, however you’d prefer to get involved, go for it – as we’re offering the chance to WIN a trip to Samboja Lestari itself! You’ll be able to find out more about our competition here – so why not get involved? We look forward to receiving all submissions, and can’t wait to meet you on this amazing project!


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deez nutz commented 4 years ago
i like orangutans

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Leanne commented 5 years ago
Thanks for the kind words, Patty :) - Leanne

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Patty F. commented 5 years ago
This website is useful and I am grateful for all the people that made this. Thank you, and bless you all. -Patty F.

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Leanne commented 5 years ago
Hi there Wanda - thanks so much! Do let us know if there's any other information you need before heading off on your adventures...and have fun! - Leanne :)

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Wanda P. commented 5 years ago
I found this very useful. Me and my husband Patrick are going to a rainforest in Indonesia in a couple of months. So now I can learn more about orangutans thanks to this website. -Wanda P.

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