Enrichment for Wildlife Patients

When someone gets a new pet, be it a dog, cat, or ferret, one of the most fun aspects is buying new and fun toys for our animal to enjoy! The value of this act goes much deeper than the smile-inducing super cute Instagram-worthy photos they create. These toys are essential for the animal to keep their mind stimulated and its body active while we are away, or very busy videoing their antics. This principle is the same for the patients here at the Wildlife Medical Clinic, particularly for our long-term patients. Enrichment is a very important part of wildlife medicine as the psychological needs of these individuals go hand in hand with their physical needs.

Delphine, our lovable ambassador opossum, explores a cardboard tube stuffed with snacks!

There are many different types of enrichment we offer our patients, dependent upon their species-specific needs. Some of our favorite ways to enrich our different patients are:

  1. Offering frozen popsicles made from their favorite treats
  2. Hiding food and treats throughout their enclosure
  3. Blowing bubbles
  4. Placing different scents throughout their enclosures
  5. Hanging toys of shredded paper and cardboard

We recently had a red fox in our care that loved some of his daily mice frozen in ice cubes! Freezing his favorite food items gave him something to investigate, bat around, crunch on, and play with, encouraging his appetite and keeping him mentally stimulated. All of this went a long way to provide him with the best, most well-rounded care possible until his eventual release.

Ducks are very much flock animals. Because of this, one of the absolute necessities, when we get duck or duckling patients, is helping them feel like they are in a group. If there aren’t other duck patients to pair them with, we will often utilize a mirror or the fluffy end of a feather duster to mimic a friend in their clinic home. By knowing the natural history of our patients, we can decrease their stress, improve their overall wellbeing, and optimize their chances of returning to the wild.

Our ambassador animals are also welcome recipients of our enrichment efforts. They can often be found going for walks with their handlers or sunbathing on warm days. Our ambassador ball python, Bucket, in particular loves exploring and climbing. Knowing this, our ambassador team will create obstacle courses and climbing walls to challenge her physically and mentally in her daily explorations.

All of the animals who receive our care, whether the smallest of frogs or the largest of eagles, get a customized enclosure to meet the needs of their injury or illness and to cater to their natural behaviors. Proper diet and plenty of enrichment are necessary aspects of providing these patients with complete, well-rounded care. Through these efforts, we hope we make their stay at the Wildlife Medical Clinic as brief and stress-free as possible, eventually getting them back into the wild where they can fly, hop, or crawl to their heart’s content.