Social Media Takes on a New Look – Apps for Apes Program

Jackie StoneAnimal Enrichment, Animal Talk0 Comments

iPad Enrichment is the coolest thing in the world of animal/human communication I’ve ever seen!

More than a dozen zoos in North America are working with Orangutan Outreach, a New York non-profit organization, to provide iPads to intelligent primates and especially orangutans, who are an endangered species in areas of the world they are found.

The iPads provide music and visual stimuli, as well as serve as a means of communicating.  The idea of an endangered species using high-tech gadgets is ironically appealing to me.  They are drawing and playing virtual musical instruments, as well.  For more info, you can visit these sites:

Orangutan Outreach: Apps for Apes Program

Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, WI: iPad Enrichment Program

The Houston Zoo: Problem Solving With Apes

The Toronto Zoo: Toronto Zoo Sumatran Orangutans Join The iPad Generation! (downloadable .pdf)

Enrichment for primates can be a particular challenge, but one we have solutions for in the Otto Environmental online store.  The Primate Enrichment System (PES) is many solutions in one, with over 20 inter-changeable toys and treat dispensers.

Today’s Zoos Are Accredited and Have a Focus on Animal Enrichment

Jackie StoneAnimal Talk0 Comments

The past 50 years have seen many changes in our lives, due to an evolution in the way we view our world combined with advances in technology.  The world has become a smaller place because of commercial jet travel, satellite communications and the internet.

The world’s zoos and the animals in their care have not been immune to the changes and, thanks to a more enlightened approach, a more attentive public and the establishment of accrediting organizations, conditions of animals in captivity have greatly improved.

In the 1970’s zoos became more involved in the conservation of species, almost naturally followed by a movement to enrich the lives of their charges, starting in the 1990’s.  The Association of Zoos and Aquariums says that animal enrichment is “a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history. Environmental changes are made with the goal of increasing the animal’s behavioral choices and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors, thus enhancing animal welfare.”

Zoos like the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin have been leaders in taking the next step by defining and implementing an enrichment program consisting of 5 focus areas: environmental, food & feeding, manipulative, sensory, and behavior/social.

Otto Environmental, located just West of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is a major provider of enrichment products to zoos and aquariums all over the United States.  We have created enrichment products that have been suggested and field-tested by zookeepers at the nearby Milwaukee County Zoo.  Some examples are the Elephant Drum and the Floating Feeder.  We also have worked together to provide custom solutions to enrichment needs of specific species, seen in our Kangaroo Claws Study video.

What does the future hold for zookeeping, animal care and the study of animals?  Video has revolutionized the way we can observe animals without influencing their behavior, not to mention putting millions of people in touch with our animal friends, both as pets and as wild animals.  Some zoos are even experimenting with iPads for primates.  Now, that sounds like the future to me!

Zoos Evolve, Resulting in a Better Experience for Humans and Animals Alike

Jackie StoneAnimal Talk0 Comments

With the opening of the London Zoo, established in 1826, the modern zoo was born.  It was meant to be a collection where the members of the Zoological Society could study live animals and expand the horizons of scientific knowledge.  When it was realized that the members were inviting friends and acquaintances it was decided to open the zoo to the public on a limited basis.

The problem with zoos over the next few decades was that they couldn’t manage to keep animals alive very long.  There were issues with disease and reproduction because little was known about their biology.  Diets were provided without full knowledge of the needs of each species, which in modern times would be addressed by observation in the wild by qualified scientists.  The practice of displaying animals individually by species in cages with iron bars was having its own effect on them that was seldom realized by their keepers.

At the beginning of the 20th century Carl Hagenbeck opened the first modern zoo where the animals were housed in more natural environments, outside of cages and with moats separating the zoo visitors from the animals.  He wanted the animals to be seen as they might in the wild.

Over time a better understanding of dietary and other needs, along with public demand for a high level of humane care, has resulted in longer lives and better conditions for zoo residents.  Along the way, professionalism has been expanded by those in charge of zoos to improve the lives the animals themselves.

By the latter part of the century a real revolution in the housing of animals swept the zoos of the world, with Hagenbeck’s model being adopted for a better experience for both animal and visitor, but still with the idea that you were visiting a display of the natural world, sort of a life-size, living diorama.

Zoos are still evolving, with a further breakdown of the barriers between visitors and animals, along with a better understanding of the social and enrichment needs of the inhabitants, in the zoo of today.

The Evolution of Zoos From Royal Collection to Public Entertainment and Education

Jackie StoneAnimal Talk0 Comments

Beginning as early as 3500 B.C. rulers of countries like Egypt and China collected wild animals into menageries, the predecessors of today’s zoos and animal sanctuaries, as a means of displaying their wealth and power.  Fascination of wild animals, both domestic and exotic, was not limited to royalty, of course.  As time went on adventurous explorers would return from far away lands with new and amazing species that they would sell to private collectors or put on display for the public at a price.

Needless to say, these animals were not always treated well and many certainly suffered terribly.  An extreme example is the Roman Emperors, who kept thousands of exotic animals that they pitted against each other or humans in spectacles for the entertainment of the people.

Flash-forward to about 1200 AD when the Medieval Kings of England had their own collections that eventually were opened to the public in the 1600’s during the reign of Elizabeth I.  Obviously, these animals were treated much better than those of the Roman Empire, but under today’s standards, still lacking in considering their entire health and well-being.

Vienna, Austria boasts the oldest existing zoo in the world, the Tiergarten Schönbrunn, built in 1752 as an imperial menagerie and was opened to the public soon thereafter, in 1765.

In the early 19th Century the modern zoo was born in London, Dublin, and Paris and mainly served to entertain and educate the public about exotic animals of the world.  Natural history and zoology were on the way to becoming accepted sciences and scientific study was a burgeoning endeavor.

Behavioral enrichment was still in its infancy and that is a subject we will save for another post.

Wintering Zoo Animals in Northern Climates

Jackie StoneAnimal Enrichment, Animal Talk0 Comments

Zoos across North America are home to many species of animals from around the world that are not native to cold climates and, in fact, would perish if special care were not taken during the Winter months.

The most obvious consideration is temperature.  Many species only require what might be considered a relatively wide range of temperatures and can be housed indoors during the Winter, in an environment controlled by a somewhat standard thermostat and heater.  Some species need to be kept at a more even level constantly, with a variance of as little as five degrees Farenheit in some  cases.  These animals typically live in completely enclosed habitats year-round, but may still require special treatment in Winter months.

Another factor in keeping animals healthy and happy is their food, which can be affected in Winter.  Animals whose habitats include edible trees and shrubs that they are used to eating in Summer may not even have leaves in Winter.  Some zookeepers harvest the plant foliage in the Fall and freeze dry it for Winter feeding.

Animals that are moved inside during the Winter still need exercise, so regular exercise periods in and out-of-doors may be called for.

Enrichment is key for Wintering animals, with strategies deployed to make foraging for food more challenging and to encourage daily play.

Mouse Habitat, Enrichment & You

Jackie StoneCaging & Equipment0 Comments

mouse-imageBesides being pantry pests and sometimes playful pets, it is well known that mice can be employed by both animal scientists as subjects in humane research and by zookeepers as a healthy diet for some animals in their care.

So, it makes sense to provide a high level of care for this fast-breeding and quickly maturing rodent, no matter what your relationship.  The right type of caging and nesting materials are as important as diet in maintaining a healthy population of one or one hundred.

Providing enough variety and challenge with the right enrichment approach is also key to reduce stress and boredom that comes with captivity.

For the past few months we have been taking a poll on our ecommerce website to see what our visitors think that mice most prefer.   Here are the latest results of the poll:

  • Play Toys (27 vote(s) – 5.5%)
  • Shelters (166 vote(s) – 33.5%)
  • Chew Toys (60 vote(s) – 12.1%)
  • Shreddables (242 vote(s) – 48.9%)

Otto Environmental’s online store has an amazing amount of equipment and enrichment items to explore and purchase, from caging and bedding material to play toys and exercise wheels.refugeii


Making the Right Choice for Enrichment

Jackie StoneAnimal Enrichment0 Comments

When making choices for animal enrichment Jeff Otto, owner of Otto 0009392_enrichment-toys_200Environmental, emphasizes the importance of choosing the right product to meet the specific needs of the animal and its unique situation.  Jeff stresses the need for enrichment as a means for captive animals to duplicate species-typical behavior in order to reduce boredom and stress associated with captivity.  “It’s important to find the right enrichment product to achieve your enrichment goals.”

In order to provide proper enrichment,  Jeff recommends asking a few simple questions before making any decisions:

  • Is durability important?
  • What materials work best for your
    situation—rubber, vinyl, plastics, stainless
    steel, etc.?
  • Does color matter?
  • Do existing products meet your needs, or
    should we consider custom-made
  • What are your size requirements? What
    will fit in your cage?
  • Do you want a toy or a treat?
  • What is your budget?

But regardless of what specific enrichment program you determine is right for your situation, no program is possible without the dedication of your staff.  The most successful and rewarding programs are those that give the animal treats and toys with enthusiasm, and are routinely rotated.

0005893_z2-625Our Otto Environmental online store offers a full line of enrichment products organized by species for your convenience, although you may find the right item for your situation in any category, so browsing is suggested.  Many of them are custom-made products available exclusively through Otto.  Whether it’s for large animals or small rodents, Jeff and his staff are able to find the right enrichment solution to meet both your animal’s needs and your budget.

Otto Environmental Teams up with the Rio Grande Zoo

Jackie StoneAnimal Enrichment, Customized Solutions, New Products0 Comments

Hornbills, like many bird species, have their own needs when it comes to enrichment.  Diane Longenecker, who is the Senior Keeper-Birds at ABQ BioPark-Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, NM, approached Otto Environmental about creating unique enrichment devices that utilize natural Abyssinian Hornbill behavior.

Otto Environmental owner and Senior Enrichment Designer, Jeff Otto, has now designed two different enrichment devices for Hornbills: the Hornbill Forage Tube and the Hornbill Forager.  Watch Maybelline, the Abyssinian Hornbill, enjoy working for her meal as she explores the depths of the Forage Tube.

While initially made for Hornbills, these unique feeders can provide many opportunities for enrichment of many large avian species.

The Forage Tube’s spinning drum is made of heavy duty fabric, with slats in which to hide food and treats.  It is adjustable, so the openings can be sized appropriately for the needs of the bird.  It includes an eye-bolt for hanging high or low.  It measures 23″ long and 7.5″ in diameter (58cm x 19cm).  Go to our online store to see more or to purchase.

Go here to see and read more about the Hornbill Forager.

Special thanks to Diane Longenecker of the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, NM.

Otto Environmental and the Milwaukee Zoo Partner on Animal Enrichment Day 2016

Jackie StoneAnimal Enrichment0 Comments

Here is a closer look at the purchases and donated items visitors on Animal Enrichment Day 2016 made on behalf of the animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo.  We would like to again thank all those who visited us at the Otto Environmental booth to learn about animal enrichment and especially those of you who made donations of enrichment items to the Zoo.

If you would still like to donate through Otto Environmental to our partners at the Milwaukee County Zoo, please call us at 414-529-7780 to see how you can help.

2016 Animal Enrichment Day at the Milwaukee Zoo

Jackie StoneAnimal Enrichment0 Comments

Saturday, June 11, 2016, was a beautiful, sunny day with mild temperatures.  That made it  even better spending the day at the Milwaukee County Zoo’s Animal Enrichment Day.  Our Otto Environmental team was there helping to educate visitors at one of the nation’s premier zoos about the science (and sometimes the art) of animal enrichment.

Animal enrichment is defined as, “a dynamic process for enhancing animal environments within the context of the animals’ behavioral biology and natural history” by The Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Animal care staff at the Milwaukee County Zoo feel that enhancing the welfare of the animals under their care is of primary importance.  Over the past years Otto Environmental has worked with the zookeepers of the Milwaukee County Zoo to develop unique and safe products, like the Elephant Drum, to keep their minds healthy and active, in an environment that is more natural for them.

During the day we spoke with lots of people about the great work being done at the Zoo, many of whom donated to the Zoo for animal enrichment items to be purchased later by the zookeepers.

We also offered many Otto exclusive enrichment items for sale designed for pets of all types from dogs to birds and from swine to horses and everything in between.

Our thanks to the Milwaukee County Zoo for inviting us to participate in the 2016 Animal Enrichment Day and to the many visitors who stopped by to talk to us.