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Playtime for zoo’s animals
11 November 2011

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A behaviour enrichment programme for the animals at the Johannesburg Zoo promises to also keep the human visitors entertained.

ANIMALS will entertain visitors to the Johannesburg Zoo until April next year as part of Animals@play, an initiative aimed at keeping animals healthy and fit.

Penalty: A young gets ready to kick a rugby ballPenalty: A young chimp gets ready to kick a rugby ballAnimals@play falls under the zoo’s behavioural engineering programme which uses devices such as balls and hiding food in enclosures to encourage animals to hunt as they would normally do in the wild.
Most enclosures at the zoo resemble the animals’ natural wild environment to stimulates them and links them to their natural environment. This environmental enrichment approach is known as a naturalist approach.

In Animals@play, the animals will be given papier-mâché balls filled with honey, raisins, snacks and pellets. Tiny holes will be made in the balls for the honey to pour through, allowing the scent to attract the animal.

The yellow baboons will be given standard soccer and rugby balls, for them to toss, roll, kick, tear apart and chew. The programme is said to be a fun and an innovative way of keeping the zoo animals fit and active.

“By using treats hidden in balls of different shapes and size, the animals attempt to get food out of the balls which lead to some creative, amusing and entertaining animal antics,” explains Razina Pandor, the zoo’s marketing assistant.

Large decahedron balls are given to the larger animals such as elephants. The balls are oddly shaped with lots of grooves, which allows the animals to play with them for longer periods of time without breaking them.

Papier-mâché balls are used for smaller and gentler animals such as spectacled bears, lemurs, chimps, ground hornbills and meerkats. They are made from thick wads of paper which are glued together using flour and water.

Pandor says these exercises are done to increase the animals’ behaviour choices and draw out appropriate behaviours and abilities so that they can display natural behaviour. Visitors can expect a lot of laughs watching these animals as they try to break open the balls to get to their treats.

Animals@play begins on 18 November with the yellow baboons. On 2 December, it will be the orang-utans’ turn, followed by the spider monkeys on the third. On 9 December, the ground hornbills and lions will be playing.

In 2012, the programme will move to the rhinos, polar bears and condors, followed by elephants, lions and chimpanzees. The playing sessions will all start at 10am. For more information, visit the Joburg Zoo website.

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